Starring: Al Pacino, Alicia Witt, Leelee Sobieski, Amy Brenneman, William Forsythe, Deborah Kara Unger and Neal McDonough. Directed by Jon Avnet. 108 min. Rated R.
88 Minutes, the shockingly stupid suspense film starring Al Pacino, has already been raked over by critics with looser deadlines than my own. Still, can’t I get in on the fun, too, albeit a week late? The movie is currently running at 6 percent approval on rottentomatoes.com, and I consider it a professional duty to knock that down to 5 percent.
Is it as bad as everyone says? Why, yes, it is.
But this isn’t just another bad thriller. For while it is mostly bad in the same ways as all the other lousy thrillers, it is additionally bad in other ways rarely seen.
The hook — in case you have missed all the other savagings —is that Seattle-based forensic psychiatrist Jack Gramm (Pacino) receives a phone call telling him he has 88 minutes left to live. It is presumably the work of condemned killer Jon Forster (Neal McDonough), who is due to be executed that very day, thanks to Gramm’s expert testimony. Can Jack find and neutralize Forster’s minions in time?
Hoo hah! Sure he can. Even though he has to drive around from one location to the next so quickly that one can only assume Seattle is geographically about half the size of Beverly Hills. He is constantly yelling into his cell phone, instructing this assistant or that FBI agent to go find one thing, then go find some other thing, then meet him at his office in 10 minutes. In the real world, just finding your car, buckling up and leaving the parking structure would consume most of that.
OK, that’s allowable in movies pretending to unfold in roughly real time. (For those who keep track, it takes about 74 minutes of real time for the 88 minutes of story time to elapse.) In fact, it’s standard: Even High Noon cheats a little.
And I’ll accept that almost no one here behaves in ways that make sense. And I didn’t groan #too# loud when Gramm, with only about 15 minutes left on the clock, stops everything to explain to teaching assistant Kim (Alicia Witt) the story of his little sister’s murder — a tale that seems to be known to everyone in the universe except the woman he’s been working with for two years. It is such common knowledge that Forster makes an offhanded, passing reference to it in a cable news interview.
Oh, did I mention that Forster’s attorneys, while not good enough to get him off, are good enough to convince the authorities to let him appear on TV the day of his execution. Happens all the time.
88 Minutes is littered with a million little stupidities like that: insane violations of plausible reality, inexplicable violations of the film’s internal reality, lines of dialogue that so contradict what is happening one can only guess they were left over from earlier drafts.
Where the awfulness of 88 Minutes goes beyond your average imbecilic suspense movie is its utter lack of understanding of the plot requirements or the genre, or of narratives in general. Its idea of plotting is to simply pile one incident on top of another, each of equal weight, never going anywhere. You could shuffle them any which way with no deleterious effect.
And then there’s Pacino, delivering his lines as though in a trance, his hair poofed up like a cockatoo, his flesh darkened with what is presumably supposed to be a deep tan (because the sun is always shining in the Pacific Northwest). His skin tone triggered some vague association in my memory. It was only on my way out that I realized what it was: Go to the Chinese takeout joint at Pico and La Brea in Los Angeles; order the orange chicken; compare, and see if you don’t agree.
To be honest, 88 Minutes has defeated me; 23 years as a critic, and yet I am unable to adequately convey its deficiencies — a humbling experience.