Al Pacino, Alicia Witt, Leelee Sobieski, Amy Brenneman, William Forsythe, Deborah Kara Unger, Benjamin McKenzie, Neal McDonough, Leah Cairns
Gary Scott Thompson
He has 88 minutes to solve a murder. His own.
A college professor (Al Pacino), who moonlights as a forensic psychiatrist for the FBI, receives a death threat that says he has only 88 minutes to live. To save his life, he must use all his skills and training to narrow down the possible suspects, which include a disgruntled student, a jilted former lover and a serial killer on death row.
$6.957 million on 2168 screens.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Runtime: 107 min.
Release Date: 9/16/2008
• Audio Commentary with Director Jon Avnet
• Alternate Ending
• “Director’s Point of View” Featurette
• “The Character Within” Featurette
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88 Minutes (2007)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 12, 2008)
Al Pacino returns via a thriller called 88 Minutes. In this 2008 flick, Pacino plays Jack Gramm, a forensic psychiatrist. The movie starts in 1997 and finds John Forster (Neal McDonough) in court after a sadistic torture and killing of a young woman. Gramm testifies that he believes Forster is a serial murderer who will strike again if given the chance.
From there we leap to present day and find that Forster will soon be executed. Gramm has to deal with the current shenanigans of the “Seattle Slayer”, another violent serial killer who deals with his victims in a heinous manner not unlike that of Forester. Theories abound about Forster’s potential connection to the Slayer, and some believe Forster might be innocent. Gramm continues to firmly believe in Forster’s guilt, however.
Matters soon take a turn for the weird. On the way to teach a class, Gramm receives a creepy anonymous phone call that declares he has only 88 minutes to live. The rest of the flick follows his attempts to get to the bottom of this – and stay alive.
For the audience, the biggest challenge may be simply to stay awake. At its root, there’s a good flick buried in 88 Minutes. I’ve always had a fondness for this sort of serial killer-related thriller, and the movie’s hook boasted real potential. If done well, this could’ve been a solid Hitchcock-style thriller.
That’s clearly what Minutes aspires to be, but it completely fails in that regard. It’s far too scattered and incoherent to compare to the work of Hitchcock, and it also never becomes even remotely stimulating. I’m actually fairly shocked that a flick with such a “ticking clock” at its core seems do relentlessly dull. It’s almost like the filmmakers wanted to make a boring piece, as I’m not sure how something with so much inherent tension could end up this boring and lifeless.
A lot of the problems come from the pacing. With less than an hour and a half to live, what does Gramm do? Does he call the authorities? Nope. Instead, he just ambles to class. From there he meanders around without much aim as he continues to receive ominous phone calls. He watches some TV, exchanges googly-eyes with a cute student, and so on.
I don’t know about you, but if I get a credible threat on my life, I act with a little urgency. Maybe – just maybe – I even rush to the authorities to get them involved. Yes, Gramm uses some of his law enforcement connections, but he mostly decides to ramble along on his own and not get much help.
Which leads me to another major flaw: all of the flick’s many lapses in logic. For instance, if Gramm knows he’ll be murdered at a specific time, why doesn’t he hide? Why not go to the police and have them isolate him for the duration? Instead, Gramm puts himself in as many potentially threatening spots as possible. Yes, I understand that 90 minutes of a guy alone in a safe room wouldn’t make for interesting filmmaking, but at least it would make sense, which is more than I can say for Minutes.
Actually, given the dull nature of Minutes, I’m not sure if 90 minutes of Gramm surfing the Internet would’ve been any less interesting. Pacino seems wholly disinterested in the proceedings. He occasionally throws out some of his patented hamminess, but he usually looks half-asleep. He provides a lackluster performance without anything to draw us into the character.
All the others remain unmemorable. I consistently would forget the names and identities of the supporting parts just because they were so anonymous. I’d call them “cute redhead”, “Leelee Sobieski”, “greasy-haired guy” and whatnot because the character names wouldn’t stick.
It’s not just that side of things that bores – it’s the whole darned movie. Less of a “whodunit?” and more of a “whocares?”, 88 Minutes completely avoids all of its natural tension and drama. Instead, it provides a frightfully dull “thriller” without the least amount of excitement of passion.
The DVD Grades: Picture C/ Audio B+/ Bonus C
88 Minutes appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This came as a rather mediocre transfer.
Sharpness varied. Some shots looked pretty concise and accurate, but more than a few instances of softness interfered. In particular, wider shots tended to be a bit fuzzy and indistinct. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but I saw mild edge enhancement. Source flaws remained absent, though grain could be heavy. That appeared to be a style choice, but it seemed over the top and made the image less attractive.
Speaking of that, the film’s palette went down a highly stylized path. The movie emphasized a blue tint much of the time, though it also sometimes went for a more yellow or green look. The movie clearly favored fairly monochromatic selections, and these gave it a bit of a bland look. Blacks seemed dark and tight, while shadows were pretty good; they seemed appropriately dense. Overall, the image was too soft and messy to merit more than a “C”.
As for the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of 88 Minutes, it proved to be more satisfying. It seemed more active than expected and used all five channels well. The flick threw out good elements to accentuate the drama, and environmental material seemed engulfing. Various vehicles and elements zipped around the spectrum in a convincing way, and the track created a great feeling for atmosphere. It wasn’t something with real killer sequences, but it packed a good punch.
Audio quality was solid. Music showed nice range and clarity, as the score was consistently bright and full. Effects also came across as accurate and concise; some good low-end emerged from both effects and music. Speech was natural and distinctive at all times. This was a very good soundtrack.
A few extras fill out the set. First comes an audio commentary with director Jon Avnet. He provides a running, screen-specific chat that looks at how he came onto the project, cast and performances, research and aspects of the story, sets and locations, and a few other production elements.
A dull movie provides a dull commentary. On occasion, Avnet throws out some interesting notes, but much of the time he simply describes the action on the screen. He also offers lots of praise for all involved. I’d listened to Avnet commentaries for some other efforts, and they were boring as well. Avnet’s commentary skills haven’t improved, so it becomes a chore to listen to this track.
An Alternate Ending runs 10 minutes, 11 seconds. It presents the same climax found in the theatrical cut but it adds a coda absent from that version. It’s not an effective conclusion to the film, mostly because it’s preachy and excessively explanatory.
Two featurettes follow. Director’s Point of View lasts seven minutes, 47 seconds as it presents Avnet’s thoughts about working with Al Pacino, characters and story, the movie’s themes, and some general notes about his directorial methods. Don’t expect much real insight here. Avnet throws out a few vaguely interesting concepts, but it seems clear “View” exists to promote the film, so it doesn’t deliver much real content.
The Character Within goes for seven minutes, 49 seconds. It features actor Al Pacino as he discusses his character, the story, and aspects of his performance. As with “View”, we get an insubstantial piece here. Essentially Pacino just recaps the flick’s plot and personalities, so don’t look for much more than that.
A few ads open the DVD. We get clips for Lakeview Terrace, The Lazarus Project, and Blu-Ray Disc. These also appear in the disc’s Previews area along with trailers for Quarantine, Quantum of Solace, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, Hancock, Step Brothers, Pineapple Express, Prom Night, 21, Made of Honor, Vantage Point, Starship Troopers: Marauder, Resident Evil: Degeneration, Zombie Strippers, Redbelt, The Shield, Untraceable, The Art of War II: Betrayal, Tortured, Felon, The Fall and “Hot Action Movies”. No trailer for 88 Minutes appears here.
At its heart, 88 Minutes boasted the potential to be a clever, tense thriller. In reality, it provided a dull, somnambulant piece of piffle. The DVD offers drab picture along with very good audio and mediocre extras. Dull and forgettable, 88 Minutes consistently disappoints.
Viewer Film Ratings: 1.7692 Stars
| Number of Votes: 13