Sony // 2008 // 107 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // September 15th, 2008
Jack Gramm has 88 minutes to solve a murder -- his own.
Al Pacino is in a weird position. He's got a resume to make any actor envious, with the Godfather films, Dog Day Afternoon, and Scarface to his credit, but it seems (at least since Scent of a Woman and maybe as far back as ...and Justice for All) that he's being cast as Al Pacino, not as an actor. He does the explosive monologue better than anyone in Hollywood, but it's getting to be tiresome watching a film where he's subdued for 95% of the production and then suddenly explodes into the patented "Al Pacino" mode for no good reason. Luckily, he's reined in for most of 88 Minutes (with the exception of one well-motivated outburst). However, it's sad that he wastes his talented intensity on such an uninspired script.
Dr. Jack Gramm (Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman) is a forensic psychiatrist with a dark past. Despite a lack of concrete evidence, Gramm's psychological profile of Jon Forster (Neal McDonough, I Know Who Killed Me) got him sent away for rape and murder. On the day of Forster's execution, Gramm receives a phone call telling him he has 88 minutes to live. Because of the information the would-be killer possesses, Gramm isn't sure who he can trust, and it will take all of his skills as a psychiatrist to unravel the plot against him.
It's hard not to compare 88 Minutes to Pacino's previous triumphant psychosexual thriller, Sea of Love. Although the plots are very different, both center on a character who isn't sure who he can trust. Also, both rely on psychology and sexuality to carry the plot. Here, the resemblance ends. Where Sea of Love is a taut thrill ride filled with effective red herrings and a satisfying (and psychologically reasonable) climax, 88 Minutes wanders, providing throwaway suspects and a climax that's almost comical and devoid of psychological depth.
The main problems lie with the script. Jack Gramm isn't a terribly interesting protagonist despite his profession and history. The device of the countdown is poorly utilized. The audience can't care about or identify with any of the suspects or victims. The killer and their reveal are shallow and both emotionally and psychologically unsatisfying. The actors keep it from being totally boring, but none of the parts of 88 Minutes even approach average.
The other big problem with the film is Leelee Sobieski. Puppy-dog eyes and a pout do not a performance make. She's given some pretty hefty dramatic duties, and she is totally unconvincing. Part of the problem is again with the script, which fails to give her character depth, but her performance does absolutely nothing to enhance her character. While the rest of the underdeveloped characters are ably played, something about Sobieski's performance stands out as particularly uninteresting.
Some decent extras might have saved the film from its mediocrity, but that was not to be. This Blu-ray disc includes an alternate ending that sucks all the ambiguity (and with it the tiny spark of interest) from the ending. Shame on Avnet for even filming this tripe. The rest of the extras are split between Pacino and the director. Both of them get to wax poetic about each other and the film. Their discussions make the film seem much more interesting than it is (while also showing how good the film could have been if it had a decent script). Avnet's commentary provides production info, and his insights are better than the final product deserves.
Aside from Sobieski, I'll give the cast credit for turning in believable performances. Pacino turns up the intensity without turning on the histrionics, which is a welcome change. William Forsyth looks much older and ragged than I've seen him lately, which lends his character a certain depth. I've liked Alicia Witt since Dune, and this film is ample proof that she needs more mainstream work on Hollywood.
I'll also throw some kudos Avnet's way. Although he obviously chose a lackluster script, he imbues it with some smart choices. Despite the film's lurching pace, Avnet keeps Gramm's paranoia at the fore. During some of the film's grislier moments, Avnet keeps the camera just outside the range of the horror, which gives the gruesome aspects of the film a little more weight. Instead of showing us all of Forster's crimes, Avnet lets our imaginations fill in the blanks. The subdued blues of Seattle's perpetually rainy atmosphere also give the film a cool tone that helps establish mood.
The presentation of this Blu-ray disc is also worthy of praise. The video isn't the most vivid or detailed I've seen, but the lack of total clarity seemed to fit perfectly with the rainy atmosphere of the film's location. The film's audio does a fine job with the dialogue and the music, providing effective balance even during the more explosive scenes.
If anyone but Pacino had signed onto this film, it would have gone straight to DVD, not even warranting a hi-def release. The film almost utterly fails as a thriller, taking too long to reach an unsatisfying climax with a boring reveal. The acting is better than most direct-to-video fare, but even the heavyweight talents of Pacino and Forsyth can't keep this boring script afloat. The extras on this disc are a little too congratulatory considering the film's performance, although the film is presented well enough. But a good presentation doesn't save the film from being boring, the cardinal sin of the thriller. Only committed Al Pacino fans should even bother with this wasted opportunity.
88 Minutes is guilty wasting the talents of everyone involved.
Review content copyright © 2008 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Alternate Ending
* Commentary with Director Jon Avnet
* "Director's Point of View"
* "The Character Within"