Sunday 3 May 2015

Movie Review: 88 Minutes (2007)

A routine chase thriller about a forensic psychiatrist threatened by a determined killer, 88 Minutes struggles to generate new ideas and eventually sinks into endless driving around and cell phone conversations.

In Seattle, Dr. Jack Gramm (Al Pacino) is a celebrated criminal court expert witness and university lecturer who helps to put killers away by testifying about their mental state. Years prior he helped to convict Jon Forster (Neal McDonough), known as the "Seattle Slayer" for a series of grotesque killings. Forster vowed revenge against Gramm. Now the clock is ticking down to Forster's hour of execution. Suddenly Gramm receives a threatening call informing him that he has 88 minutes to live; and people around him start showing up dead, killed using Forster's methods.

Gramm does not know who to trust, but teams up with his teacher's assistant Kim (Alicia Witt) and his office manager Shelly (Amy Brenneman) to try and track down the source of the threats. The Dean of Students Carol Johnson (Deborah Kara Unger) and FBI Special Agent Parks (William Forsythe) both begin to suspect that Gramm is hiding something. Gramm's student Lauren (Leelee Sobieski) has a narrow escape from the killer, while another student Mike (Benjamin McKenzie) starts to snoop around Gramm's affairs.

Not even the substantial presence of Pacino can rescue a poor Gary Scott Thompson script bereft of any fresh content. As robotically directed by Jon Avnet, 88 Minutes mostly consists of Pacino driving from point A to point B, encountering a bland surprise, receiving and making cell phone calls, and then driving from point B to point C to repeat the process. As Gramm loops around Vancouver (standing in for Seattle) a half dozen times, and barks into his phone umpteen more times, the suspense and drama slowly and steadily seep away.

The rushed introduction of some really clumsy sub-plots involving Kim's boyfriend and a shady university security guard hinder rather than help the ponderous plot. An attempt to provide Gramm with a backstory involving his dead sister equally falls flat. Pacino applies his dour and arrogant mode to reasonably good effect, and generally avoids the excesses that he popularized and then over-deployed. But the supporting cast is pretty basic, and never rises above monotones.

Once the death threats start, 88 Minutes takes place in almost-real time, but rarely have so few minutes felt so long.

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