Sometimes, the creative writing is splashed all over the workprint walls. Anyone seeing John Avnet’s name on the directing credits should take a moment to contemplate asking for their money back. After all, he’s been responsible for mindless dreck like Fried Green Tomatoes, The War, Up Close and Personal, and Red Corner. Not the greatest big screen resume. To make matters worse, he has teamed up with screenwriter Gary Scott Thompson, whose poisoned pen scribbled slop like K-911, K9-PI, Hollow Man, and The Fast and the Furious. What made either man think they could take on the by now stale serial killer thriller begs the question of their individual sanity. How they conned one of our greatest actors to lower himself to such a paycheck cashing conceit borderlines on the criminal.
The result is a pile of contrivances called 88 Minutes, and our above marquee name is none other than Al Pacino. In this tortuous career killer, the artist formerly known as a ‘70s stalwart plays Dr. Jack Gramm. A high profile forensics psychologist, he has successful profiled everyone from Ted Bundy to “Seattle Slayer” Jon Forster. Of course, our smooth talking slayer claims innocence, and nine years later, he’s about to be executed for his crimes. Suddenly, a copycat murder occurs, and Forster’s guilt is thrown in jeopardy. Even worse, Gramm’s ethics are questioned. As his students react to the news, our headshrinker gets a strange call. The voice intones something very sinister—Gramm only has 88 minutes to live. Even worse, it looks like he’s being framed for the latest round of corpses.
So convoluted that ADD addled teenagers find it unfocused, and lost in a cinematic situation of unfinished scenes, awkward dramatic pauses, and random illogical tangents, 88 Minutes is a mess. It’s a futile attempt at making a CSI mountain out of a mediocre Silence of the Lambs molehill, and never establishes a realistic look at how professional profilers earn their keep. Wasting the talents of much of its cast—though many deserve their “who’s that?” sense of relevance—and using Seattle for its apparent nonstop supply of dank, Avnet and Thompson test the patience of even the most ardent Pacino fan. Granted, the Oscar winner has made a lot of lame choices in the last 10 years (Gigli? Two for the Money?), but this pompadoured doc has to be a new low.
At first, we’re not sure what to make of Jack Gramm. He seems deeply troubled, losing himself in casual sex, professional spite, and a curmudgeonly classroom manner. He’s supposed to be a superstar of his trade, and yet nothing he does appears born out of his abilities. Instead, it all feels written, the product of a computer, not a plot. This is one of those “of course” movies, the kind of entertainment were information is given, and then when additional facts are added to ratchet up the supposed suspense and/or drama, we smirk to ourselves and say…“of course”. A character will have an abusive boyfriend… who turns out to be her violent ex-husband…who happens to have spent time in prison…at the same place that the Seattle Slayer has been sitting on Death Row. Of course.
This is also a film clearly set in the only part of Washington State where the elusive red herring lives. There are so many individuals subtlety screaming “I DID IT”—from a tattooed twink campus security guard to the world’s most obvious non-doorman doorman—that you wonder how the cops missed these particular “individuals of interest”. Gramm is also surrounded by several manmade MacGuffins. His secretary is a lesbian with something potentially damaging to hide. Several of his students know way too much about Forster and their teacher’s involvement in the case, and one henna-haired harpy carries a loaded handgun—you know, for kicks! The list of showboating suspects grows so great that you wonder how Avnet will explain them all. Believe it or not, he doesn’t. He just lets them drop.
Indeed, Avnet’s directing here is jaw-droppingly bad. There’s a moment where Pacino is after an important suspect. He and his costar pull up to her home, get ready to exit, and then everything stops so Al can deliver a speech about the death of his little sister several years before. At least it ties into the reason behind the title. But early on, the man behind the lens lets time fritter by as grown men sample cookies and milk and Pacino has randomized, unfiltered flashbacks. Individual moments appear endless, there is no real sense of mise-en-scene (meaning one sequence doesn’t successfully segue into the next) and the pacing provides zero dread. Had the movie tried for a real time conceit, maybe such a strategy would work. But at 105 minutes, it’s bloated and boring.
The final nail in 88 Minutes pauper’s coffin is the premise itself. Since Gramm is told he has less than an hour and a half to live, it seems like a trip to the local police station, or his buddies at the FBI would be a reasonable first step. Tell them what’s going on, give them all the facts (the escort he slept with, the potential connection to Forster) and sit back and enjoy a cup of justice. Ninety minutes later, all should be right with the world. Even if our determined doctor decides to do a little private dicking on his own, he can engage the help of individuals actually trained in the art of detection. Instead, Thompson gives us a group of groan-inducing coeds who can’t seem to find the course syllabus, let alone a viable lead.
One hopes this is all in service of some sensational twist where we learn that Gramm is actually a mentally unstable man who believes himself to be…well, you get the idea. Instead, one of our maroon fish finally plays their hand, a formulaic standoff occurs, and we get the deathly dull villain with no internal monologue vs. the shifty eyed, ever-plotting victim. While the actual ending does give audiences a reason to cheer, it’s the final fade out that will make viewers the happiest. It means this tepid terror is finally over.