Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Lena (Christian Serratos) is having a bad day.  In the morning her boyfriend jumps out of bed to go somewhere that he refuses to tell her, she then breaks up with this boyfriend, steals his cat, sees this boyfriend with another girl in the college cafeteria, then wrecks her car.  It’s a bad day by any stretch of the imagination.  Of course this movie ‘96 Minutes’ opens with Lena in the back seat of a carjacked SUV, her head in the lap of her friend, with this head of hers having a bullet in it.  Does that sound like a crap day to you?  It sure does to us.

Writer / Director Aimee Lagos film fiddles with the timeline a bit, obviously, so we are experiencing this bad situation in real time… kind of… while taking a step back to see what has led to this awful, awful situation.  Dre (Evan Ross… who was amazing in this movie by the way), is a gifted high school student at some southern urban high school, and is finding a way to succeed despite the fact that all indications are that he shouldn’t in this environment.  In fact on this day he’s done so well on some standardized test that the pretty girl thinks they should go out later and celebrate.  Dre declines the offer to celebrate with the pretty girl so he can hang out with his boys.  Wait one freaking minute…  seriously Dre?  Just so you know young Dre is going to make a litany of terrible decisions in this movie, none more egregious than passing up an opportunity to spend a few hours with a pretty girl to ‘hang out with his boys’.  Dre’s fate is effectively sealed.

We already know about Lena’s bad day, culminating with her roommate dragging her out to the local bar.  That’s where she runs into another good friend in Carley (Brittany Snow) who has her own minor issue in that she’s really upset that her old man won’t come to her college graduation.  I mean it’s major to her, but in the grand scheme of things it’s really minor.  Since Lena doesn’t want to be at the bar in the first place, she offers to drive her home.

Unfortunately this coincides with Dre, a good boy who makes bad decisions, trying to save his cousin Kevin (Jonathan Michael Trautmann), a bonafide idiot, from a life of

crime.  Kevin, who is living a crap life to be certain, appears to be borderline retarded in his complete inability to process rational thought.  Something Dre apparently didn’t realize about his cousin, who he has looked out for his entire life, until it was way too late. 

This all leads us to the situation that we are witnessing unfold at the moment as Kevin has carjacked Carley, shot Lena in the head, and put Dre in the unwinnable position of sorting it out with Kevin’s main concern being where to get a slushie.  Kevin will continue to do things on this tragic evening which make no logical sense, but as we have already pointed out he is unable to process this.  Dre on the other hand…

‘96 Minutes’ is an interesting film, one those ‘based on true events’ type stories, and like most movies we see that are ‘based on true events’, judging from the way this movie unfolded and some of the very odd decisions that were made by the characters in this movie, I’m guessing creative liberties were taken that stretched our true events.  Teenagers do tend to make really stupid decisions, but I’d like to think that a reasonable, mature, intelligent teenager wouldn’t behave the way that Dre behaved unless it was to make for a more interesting movie. 

That being said, ‘96 Minutes’ is worth watching if for no other reason that director Aimee Lagos coaxed some solid performances out her young actors, with Evan Ross shining the brightest out of all of these actors.  There is a definite division in these lives of these young adults, a bad breakup, a dad who shows love by buying his daughter whatever she wants but is never around, versus the kids on the other side of the tracks dealing with drug addicted parents, physical abuse, police harassment or no parents whatsoever.  The other characters, while good in this movie, still came off as one-dimensional in their presentation while Evan Ross found a way to flesh out Dre to deliver the most impact for his character.  This is more of an accomplishment since the audience is given the least amount of information in regards to Dre’s history and back story. 

The dramatic parts of the story, however, do suffer though a series of worn clichés and generalities.  Cops are assholes, The Hood is a horrible place, and well off white kids are shallow, among others.  But the main thing that was bothering me in regards to the narrative, despite Evan Ross’s performance, was asking myself at what point does this kid make a halfway logical decision?  We could assume that the lure of Dre’s gang friends is all encompassing to the young bi-racial boy, considering these friends of his attack him on this and perhaps feeling some kind of need to prove to them that he’s just as hard as they are, but considering how Dre talks to these dudes and how he belittles their chosen lifestyle, that doesn’t really fly.  Dre is bright and wants more for his life but he essentially passed up an opportunity to spend time with the pretty girl to sit on a porch and argue with his friends about stuff he doesn’t even believe in, which gives a character who is one way in personality and another way in actions.  That’s mighty inconsistent.   

‘96 Minutes’ is a flawed drama, somewhat inconsistent, and a little cliché ridden but also tense, well performed and generally well written.  It is a conundrum.

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