88 Minutes (2008)
Typically you can smell something wrong when a movie is continually delayed or held from release for well over a year. The serial killer thriller 88 Minutes actually began filming during the fall of 2005 (!). It was released in the United States well after it had been available on DVD in Europe for over a year. After watching all 108 minutes of 88 Minutes, it’s easy to see why the studio and the film’s astounding 20 producers (!!) were trying to hide this from public eyes.
Dr. Jack Gramm (Al Pacino) is the top forensic psychiatrist in Seattle. His testimony is responsible for convicting Jon Forster (Neal McDonough) of a death sentence. Many years later, Jon is now hours away from execution and still professing his innocence, claiming the real “Seattle Slayer” is still out there. Gramm works as a college professor and he can still woo the young ladies and beds them regularly. His assistant (Amy Brenneman) informs Gramm that a woman in his class has been murdered and her murder is patterned after the “Seattle Slayer” killings. Gramm believes that Forster is collaborating with someone on the outside to cast doubt on his conviction. Then as Gramm walks to class he gets an anonymous phone call that tells him he has 88 minutes to live. Gramm scrambles to try and use the time to figure out who is targeting him, framing him, and why. Could it be his assistant, his T.A. (Alicia Witt), his skeptical students (Benjamin McKenzie, Leelee Sobieski), the skeezy campus cop, or maybe the starting second baseman for the Seattle Mariners?
First off, the time frame doesn’t work at all. 88 minutes is too short a time frame to do crack investigation, and Gramm runs all over the city of Seattle at least three times without getting caught in any gridlock. The movie establishes a real-time ticking clock but then decides to follow a different set of time. Occasionally the movie will be faster than real life, meaning that it says 10 minutes have passed when only say 6 have, and occasionally the movie will be slower than real life, like when the third act probably takes all of 10 minutes in the film’s universe. It’s not consistent and points out the flaw of the structure. The 88-minute countdown was supposed to add a feeling of suspense but what it does is add an extra level of incredulity. There is no way that 88 minutes would be a sufficient time for the killer to stage murder and mayhem around a large metropolitan city known for inclement weather. Seriously, is the killer trying to set unreasonable personal goals? Why not a three-hour window of time? That way the killer could have a healthy planning period without worrying that everything would collapse if they got stuck in traffic. Also, the 88-minute time frame allows glimpses into the anal retentive nature of our killer. Gramm is harassed by phone calls updating him on his declining time, but what’s truly special is when the killer defaces Gramm’s car saying how long he has to live to the minute. The killer must have known to the second when Gramm would come by his car because had the doc taken a different route, gotten a coffee, gone to the bathroom, or performed whatever other million actions then the death threat would be inaccurate.
Next, all the women are helpless sycophants. They think the world of Gramm and several of these twenty-something college girls have big time crushes on the aged Pacino. It’s hard to take seriously the idea that Gramm, in this context, is still a Lothario that he can bed any coed he sets his sleepy eyes upon. The fact that the movie opens with him waking up from his latest and naked conquest already gives the film a squeamish start, but when multiple characters all confess to having crushes on Gramm then the whole idea transforms into an uncomfortable stroking of Pacino’s vanity and virility. I suppose I shouldn’t expect too much from the plethora of female characters because they’re all in need of comfort and every one of them winds up a pitiful damsel in distress. We’re supposed to believe these are strong and capable women, all of them working alongside a criminal expert so perhaps they know a thing or two about self-defense. They fawn over the man and then inexplicably wind up in danger. Occasionally the women will experience dramatic setbacks and they all take a backseat toward getting a hug from Gramm. These women react to the sight of death in puzzling ways and then will just as easily move on to another topic.
This is the kind of wretched movie where a flashback tragedy is defined by a memory so inane that it becomes insulting. Gramm keeps flashing back to a simple memory of his long deceased younger sister; she is running along the bank of a rather filthy looking river with a kite trailing inches behind her. Now, 88 Minutes is the type of movie where she has to giggle innocently and say something ridiculously non-descript, which in this case is, “[Giggle], dad look at the kite.” Of course Gramm is not her father (or is he?) and her call to look at the kite makes little sense because 1) its string is about three feet so it cannot go very high at all, and 2) it’s usually flying lower than the girl. I just find this image, this idea, this whole flashback construct to be emblematic of how truly awful and derivative and excruciating 88 Minutes can be.
I must confess there is one scene in 88 Minutes that I will remember for the rest of my life specifically because of how ridiculously appalling it is. Few scenes cause me to simultaneously stare in wide-eyed amazement and resist the urge to vomit. Here goes. Gramm is confronted by his FBI agent pal (William Forsythe) who has some bad news for Gramm. It turns out Gramm’s semen was found inside the “vaginal cavity” of the victim. We know Gramm wasn’t sexually involved with her because he was sexually involved with our opening naked escort lady, Sara Pollard (Leah Caims). Gramm then argues that someone out there framed him by killing Sara Pollard (oh don’t act surprised), retrieving Gramm’s semen from inside her, and then injecting it into the “vaginal cavity” of the victim. Hearing an actor of Pacino’s credit verbalize this theory is akin to having the “sex talk” with your parents, nay, grandparents — it’s just so intensely uncomfortable to watch. I just picture a lab tech with a long syringe that has to run around Seattle to make his semen import/export deadlines. This one icky moment stands out as the most ridiculously awful in a movie that is nothing but collective scenes of awful.
88 Minutes has no characters, only red herrings. Each of the numerous supporting characters is given the chance to act suspiciously and for no real good reason. Gramm takes his turn going through accusing nearly every supporting character he comes across as being in league with Forster. The screenplay even establishes characters like the painfully named Guy LaForge (Stephen Moyer, True Blood‘s Bill the Vampire) who serves no purpose other than to wear a leather jacket and squint in backgrounds.
Forget anything approaching characterization because writer Gary Scott Thompson (The Fast and the Furious) has created a script that is woeful in every department, including thrills. The reveal of the killer is mishandled, as is most every plot point, and I’m at a total loss at the rationale of attempting to commit murder in a building the killer called in a bomb threat. Yeah there may not be students but there will be plenty of police sniffing around. More than half of the scenes involve people talking on cell phones. The dialogue is unintentionally hilarious more often than not, with lines like “Someone has penetrated my most secret place” and, “If I can’t forgive you I don’t deserve you,” and the killer taunting, “You see Jacko, I’m a true believer.” Need I remind you of the “vaginal cavity” conversation? This is a complete laughable mess that would have been just another half-rate direct-to-TV movies airing late nights on cable channels were it not for Pacino’s involvement.
Pacino doesn’t even try to hide his disillusionment with the movie. He comes across as sleepy-eyed to the point of being a zombie with a permanent case of bedhead (seriously, Pacino’s crazy hair steals the show). The man is going through the motions to collect a paycheck, and he even gets a couple scenes to work up the frothy barking Pacino voice that he has settled into for the past 15 years of acting. He never seems to be worried that he only has so many minutes to live, so why should we bother sweating? The rest of the cast is awful and they were likely lured to this doomed project because of the chance to work alongside Pacino. Leelee Sobieski must be singled out for being particularly atrocious, especially when she tries to play a tough girl. This has got to be her worst performance since she started speaking. Then again, she has worked with Uwe Boll (Fun fact: one of 88 Minutes‘ many producers is Boll’s longtime producer).
88 Minutes is bad in every possible manner of filmmaking. This is an embarrassment for everyone whose name’s is attached to this film. From the overly anxious musical score, to the choppy editing, to the lackluster cinematography, to the abysmal story and outlandish acting and the lazy direction, 88 Minutes is a cinematic catastrophe. It should only be watched at a safe distance and only with the intention of derisive enjoyment. Because while this movie fails at every level it may just end up becoming the funniest comedy of the year.
Nate’s Grade: D