88 Minutes (TriStar Pictures, R)

88mins75.jpgI wish I could say this was one of those films where an inspiring lead performance lifted the material, but Pacino doesn’t add much to 88 Minutes.







So, if you received a death threat, what’s the first thing you’d do about it? That’s right, you’d call the police. But, that’s only because you aren’t Jack Gramm (Al Pacino). When his life is threatened, he can handle it all on his own.
Because he’s a tough-as-nails…forensic psychiatrist?

After helping convict Jon Forster (Neal McDonough) for serial murder, Gramm is given only 88 minutes to live via a menacing voice-altered phone call, and so the hunt is on. Gramm is surrounded by possible suspects: his college students, business associates, lovers, and the newly-convicted killer.

In a film like this, you never really have to wonder who the perpetrator is, or whether some of those suspects will become victims as the would-be killer torments Gramm. The fact is, the only questions you’re likely to ask while watching this movie are, “How did a thriller this boring get made?” and “Why is Pacino in this thing?”

One of the biggest problems with 88 Minutes is the execution of the formula. You would think that chasing down the person who’s threatened to kill Gramm would be action-packed. But for every scene of Gramm running, there must be at least seven scenes of him on the phone. That’s right, the filmmakers thought grand suspense could be gleaned from watching the main character constantly taking and making phone calls. I have never endured so many phone scenes in one movie, much less one that’s supposed to be, you know, exciting.

There are also quite a few “Really?” moments in the movie. For instance, Gramm supplies his talents to the FBI, but at no point does he ever ask for any help finding the person who’s trying to kill him. Really? If I worked with the FBI and got a death threat, I would be all up in the FBI’s face looking for help. Wouldn’t most people? Especially if you found out you’re supposed to be dead less than two hours from now?

Gramm also makes a point of hanging out with as many of his suspects as possible. As though a voice-altered phone call couldn’t be pre-recorded and then sent while the perpetrator was with him. That kind of stuff is always done in movies like this. A smart guy like Gramm should know that.

Even sadder, 88 Minutes is saddled with bad writing and bad acting. Characters actually use beyond-cliché phrases like “I don’t even know who you are anymore,” and “you don’t really suspect me, do you?” Mostly, we just suspect you aren’t a very good actor.

I wish I could say this was one of those films where an inspiring lead performance lifted the material, but Pacino doesn’t add much to 88 Minutes. This is not one of those times where you will simply not be able to imagine anyone else in his part. The most notable aspect of him here is that he tones down his trademark yelling—to such a degree that Gramm seems more bemused than scared or angered by his impending doom.

Pacino is joined in mediocrity by Deborah Kara Unger, Benjamin McKenzie, and Amy Brenneman. The true duds, though, are Leelee Sobieski and Alicia Witt. After watching them here, it’s no surprise that we don’t see more of their pained expressions and monotone delivery spread across filmdom. Thank the movie gods for small favors. │Adrienne Jones

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