Film Reviews

Poor Al: Pacino plays another caricature of himself in 88 Minutes

Jon Avnet's cheesy new thriller, 88 Minutes, is 105 minutes long. Going in, I feared that 100 of them would be eaten up by Al Pacino chewing the furniture. Alas, it's worse than that. Pacino plays a Seattle forensic psychiatrist in symbiotic thrall to the serial killer he helped put away nine years ago, and though his hair looks like Mount St. Helens preparing to blow, he's going for the other self-parodying bit of business that continues to foul up his legacy — world-weary, sighing, heavy-lidded ennui, as befits a fallen hero oppressed by his past, barely functioning in the present, and careless of his future.

But for a man who's all but given up on life, Jack Gramm sure keeps busy. While profiling serial killers for the FBI and the local police, he hectors a college class disproportionately represented by sharp-witted nubile nymphs, twists the night away with strange women half his age (though naturally: "I never sleep with my students"), and keeps tabs on the killer, Jon Forster (a suitably cyborgian Neal McDonough), who, on the eve of his execution, mounts a high-tech publicity campaign against his nemesis.

Talk shows mutter of procedural irregularity, cars go up in flames, and generic voices whisper "tick-tock" into Gramm's cell phone while counting down the minutes to his demise, timed to coincide with Forster's. Dark secrets flow out of Gramm's past in perfect parallel with the blood that pours out of the lovely young female victims of the copycat killer who bedevils his case against Forster. If Gary Scott Thompson's laughably expository screenplay and Pacino's eye-rolling weren't enough to flag Gramm's blooming paranoia, a thumping score gilds the lily, along with endless cutaways to pretty faces frozen in attitudes of studied ambiguity.

With Forster safely behind bars, someone is setting Gramm up, and almost everywhere we look, suspicion falls on firm young female flesh that's barely over the age of consent. Could it be the surviving twin (Tammy Hui) of the gruesome murder that put Forster away, who comes bearing cookies to celebrate his pending death? A go-getting graduate student (Leelee Sobieski) with unusually advanced knowledge of legal-defense arguments? Gramm's teaching assistant (Alicia Witt), who shows her devotion to the life of the mind by removing her top in the professor's sleek pad? The dean of students (Deborah Kara Unger), a blond looker at least a decade younger than anyone working her way up the college-administrative ladder could possibly be? Moving into downright geriatric territory, could the perp be Gramm's faithful lesbian assistant (Amy Brenneman), who is, not insignificantly, the only woman he can bring himself to kiss on the lips? And as if poor Jack didn't have enough on his plate fielding untrustworthy distaff, lissome young corpses pop up at gruesomely regular intervals, drugged, trussed, and hanging upside down as they bleed to death.

With its lumbering efforts at black humor and phony pretense to moral complexity, 88 Minutes is an ugly specimen on just about every front, and I've half a mind to spill the beans on how this disreputable excuse for a thriller ends, not that there's much reason to care.

There is, however, one way in which, all unawares, the movie works like a charm — as a twisted, self-torturing essay on the aging man's fear of and desire for the young female body. We may have to sit through worse films to come this year, but with any luck, there'll be none as guilelessly, idiotically misogynist as this one.

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Ella Taylor
Contact: Ella Taylor