Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

The way the galaxies have to be aligned to make a good movie are simply staggering when you think about it for a minute. We as film watchers simply sit back and watch a finished product then proclaim ‘it sucked’ then walk away to continue with whatever we were doing, but a lot of time and care went into making that sucky movie. Al Pacino’s new thriller ’88 Minutes’ is an example of a sucky movie in which a lot of talented people got together to do their darndest to make a decent a movie, but failed almost completely in their efforts. This is a film that has been sitting on a shelf for a couple of years and gone through two directors, numerous re-writes, a cast re-call for reshoots after the studio saw the original and was apparently disgusted with it. We won’t even mention the large number of technical staff and the goo gobs of money thrown at a particular project, but at the end of the day when they load those reels on the projector, or we slip that silver disk into the DVD player we care very little about how hard you had to work, only that the next 90 to 120 minutes of my life have been entertaining. Unfortunately ‘88 minutes’ wasn’t that film.

Pacino plays famous and rich college professor and forensic psychologist Dr. Jack Graham who we meet enjoying the company of some long legged beautiful naked woman. Dr. Jack may look like a dried up raisin but he’s a playa for real. In a couple of hours serial killer Jon Forster (Neil McDonough) is about to be put to death, largely on the testimony of our forensic psychologist. Forster has long claimed his innocence, blaming his plight on a vendetta Dr. Graham has with him, alluding to the murder of Dr. Graham’s baby sister some years ago which still haunts the Doc today. When a murder takes place in the modus operandi as our incarcerated serial killer, it looks like Forster’s claim of innocence may have some merit. The thrills begin however when in the middle of teaching his class Jack gets a message saying something to the effect that

he’s going to die in 88 minutes which freaks him out possibly a little more than it should, then he sees his automobile vandalized and one of his students, Lauren Douglas (Leelee Sobieski) gets assaulted. Along the way we also meet FBI agent Frank Parks (William Forsythe) who keeps asking Dr. Graham ‘are you sure we got the right guy’, and we also meet his team in his lesbian assistant Shelly (Amy Brenneman), and his graduate assistant Kim (Alicia Witt) who Dr. Graham is also sexing up, and will be the Robin to his Batman in this thriller. There’s also the Dean of the college in Dr. Johnson (Deborah Kara Unger) who I believe the doc used to be doing, but once she passed thirty she became a bit too old for the damn near 70 year old psychologist to mess with anymore. Then that naked woman in the beginning gets all murdered up and Dr. Graham is suspect number one.

The reason we mention all of these characters is because one of them is the killer, which will become fairly obvious as the movie drones on, but yet manages to bewilder our super genius forensic psychologist. The messages continue to come counting down the minutes to Dr. Graham’s imminent demise, more dead bodies turn up and Forster, via CNN, is given an unprecedented amount of media access for a man who’s going take a needle in a few hours, continues to mock the Doc. Can the Doc solve the mystery with only seconds left before his time is up?

My personal favorite film genre is the mystery crime thriller, probably because my mom used to read me Ellery Queen short stories as opposed to Mother Goose before bedtime. Give me Bill Curtis and an ‘American Justice’ marathon and I’m as happy as a pig in slop. ’88 minutes’ didn’t make me happy. It’s wasn’t smart or clever enough to be even a halfway decent thriller as the narrative was ridden with plot holes, the eventual killer became fairly obvious simply due to the elimination of characters, and the killer’s motivation was terribly weak. The whole 88 minute angle was suspect since it seemed our mystery killer was trying to kill the Doc, such as blowing up his car, before the 88 minutes was up anyway. As an action movie ’88 minutes’ comes up short as it is paced way to slow and relatively ancient Al Pacino paired with the very young Alicia Witt made for a very incongruent pair of lovers / detectives.

I don’t think anybody would question the acting pedigree of Al Pacino, at least I wouldn’t, but his interest in being in this film seemed to wane as the movie wore on and great veteran character actors Forsythe and McDonough had their talents wasted in completely throw away parts. Then of course there was the end which was completely out of step with our ‘clever mystery thriller’ and more in line with some contraption that Jigsaw might have come up with.

Nobody, I don’t think, sets out to make a bad movie, but it happens. Way too often. With the money invested and the talent involved one would think that it shouldn’t happen as much as it does, but ’88 minutes’ proves that sometime the road to hell is indeed paved with the best of intentions.

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