Sunday, April 20, 2008

88 Minutes

Here's another simple, somewhat recycled premise. Al Pacino plays uber-successful university professor and forensic psychiatrist Dr. Jack Gramm who, when he's not teaching class and being an all around confident guy, is a consultant and expert witness for the F.B.I. On the day before the scheduled execution of serial rapist/killer Jon Forster (Neal McDonough), a new murder scene is discovered bearing the exact same modus operandi as Forster. This turn of events, of course, not only raises doubts concerning Forster's guilt but also brings into question Gramm's expert testimony which was responsible for the conviction. To add to an already perfect day, Gramm receives a phone call telling him he has only 88 minutes to live. Ticktock doc. As the minutes fall away and the reality of the situation sets in, Gramm, convinced that Forster is somehow behind what is happening, realizes that the perpetrator must be someone very close to him, and he's going to need to push his skills to their limit in order to unravel the puzzle and hopefully stay alive.

Not bad - not great. I would say this movie rests comfortably on the low side of 'good', and that's only because of the performances of Pacino and McDonough. Pacino come through with his familiar I'm-a-forceful-but-charming-kinda-guy persona that he's perfected over the years except, in this instance, his character is highly intelligent and quick on his feet as well. Pacino adds the intelligence factor without coming across as pompous, which is a very good thing because it wouldn't have taken much for me to switch sides and root for the killer. This brings me to McDonough, the incarcerated serial killer who may be behind the machinations affecting Pacino's character. Honestly, I think I would have liked this film much more if McDonough had received more screen time. McDonough's portrayal of Forster was intense, calculating and just a tad chilling, and the interactions between Forster and Gramm were some of the best moments of the movie. I've seen several things with McDonough in the cast (Minority Report, The X-Files, Timeline, Band of Brothers) but this was the first I'd seen him play such an intense character - he should do it more often. The other two notables in the cast would have to be Leelee Sobieski as one of the grad students and Alicia Witt as Gramm's teaching assistant, both of whom bring a polished realism to their characters that could have easily slipped past other, less experienced actors.

All in all I think this was an adequate film considering the story, however, this definitely falls into the 'rental' category. Had it not been for Pacino and McDonough, this could have conceivably been a direct to video release and, considering the plot, if the four main roles were replaced with full time television actors, you'd have a perfect Lifetime movie. Now I realize that some people who don't read and aren't particularly fond of logic will find this movie much more satisfying than I did, and that's fine. Sometimes I wish I was one of those people because, then, I'd have so much more to like but, unfortunately, I'm not so I'm relegated to the disappointment isle, but that's just fine because it means that when something really well thought out and surprisingly written comes along, I'm all that more impressed by it and my day is truly improved. Sadly, 88 Minutes didn't fall into that category.

p.s. In case you're wondering what does fall into that category, considering the story line, look no further than the first season of The X-Files to episode 12 entitled: Beyond the Sea. Brad Dourif guest stars as a convicted serial killer about to be executed when crimes mirroring his m.o. begin to occur, opening the door to lots of questions and bringing Mulder and Scully to the prison since it was Mulder's profile that caught Luther Lee Bogs (Dourif) in the first place. Awesome episode and amazing performances from Duchovny, Anderson and, as usual, Dourif. Check it out - you won't be disappointed.

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