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‘88 Minutes’ proves a big, tedious mess



Published: Fri, April 18, 2008 @ 12:00 a.m.

By David Germain

Al Pacino offers a subdued performance rather than his usual overacting.

Bad news: Al Pacino’s serial-killer thriller “88 Minutes” loiters around for 19 minutes longer than the title suggests.

Worse news: It feels like 188 minutes.

A stronger word than preposterous is needed to describe the, well, preposterous lengths director Jon Avnet and company go to engorge this movie with idiotic action, incomprehensible twists and loads of other nonsense after Pacino’s FBI profiler receives a phone call informing him he has 88 minutes to live.

This isn’t a movie so much as a bad fun house, with Pacino dodging bullets, motorcycles and exploding cars and reacting to screams of terror as he rushes about. If an animatronic cadaver had suddenly leaped out of a closet with a shriek, it would be scarcely more stupid than everything else confronting him.

Pacino has done more than his share of bad movies, but he at least usually treats us to his big, loud Al mode, so we can titter over how he overacts.

The chaotic pace of “88 Minutes” would seem to offer him a chance to rage and bellow, but while Pacino does raise his voice here and there, his delivery is surprisingly subdued (for him, at least) much of the time.

There are plenty of titters to be had, though, from the silly characters, awful dialogue and overabundance of red herrings presented by screenwriter Gary Scott Thompson, whose credits include “The Fast and the Furious.”

Pacino plays Jack Gramm, a forensic psychiatry professor in Seattle whose testimony helped put Jon Forster (Neal McDonough) on death row for the torture slaying of a young woman 10 years earlier.

With Forster’s execution hours away, a string of murders carried out in exactly the same way confounds Gramm and his FBI colleagues.

Is it a copycat killer? Is it Forster pulling an associate’s strings from prison? Is it, as the evidence gradually suggests, Gramm himself?

We already don’t care by the time Gramm starts getting calls on his cell phone from a disguised voice telling him he got the wrong man and he’s going to die in 88 minutes.

From then on, the movie proceeds pretty much in real time, which amplifies how impossible the interaction and collisions among the many characters would be. In the span of minutes, Gramm flits back and forth from campus to his apartment to a crime scene and back to campus — with a diabolical killer somehow keeping pace to fire bullets, nearly run him down with a motorcycle, blow up a car, set a fire, orchestrate a bomb scare and plant evidence implicating our guy in the latest murder.

As Gramm tries to figure out what’s happening, he’s presented with suspects like spice jars on a lazy Susan. Among them: His longtime assistant (Amy Brenneman), his crackerjack graduate assistant (Alicia Witt), an old flame (Deborah Kara Unger) who also happens to be the dean of Gramm’s school and a couple of brainy students (Leelee Sobieski and Benjamin McKenzie).

We also get not one, but two, suspiciously goofy security guards and an angry ex-husband with a history of violence.

To wrap up the mess they’ve created, the filmmakers simply reach in, pull out one of their ridiculous characters whom they declare the killer, then offer up a lame back-story to explain the motive (which, like everything else about “88 Minutes,” is too brainless to believe).

Avnet, whose credits include “Fried Green Tomatoes,” proves to be utterly inept in the action genre here, a bad sign for his next movie, the cop thriller “Righteous Kill,” pairing Pacino and Robert De Niro.

The calls to Gramm count down how long he has to live in an altered voice that sounds like the annoying killer in the “Saw” flicks.

“Jesus, Jack. Why 88 minutes?” asks an FBI buddy after Gramm tells him about the calls.

Why couldn’t it have been “88 Seconds”?


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