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April 18, 2008

88 Minutes never lasted so long

[img id="80495" align="alignleft"] The new Al Pacino thriller 88 Minutes makes one wonder what motivated those involved with this boring, unnecessary film. Pacino’s reason was presumably inspired by a very relatable problem: He needed a few million dollars to buy a new mansion. Perhaps the director, Jon Avnet (Fried Green Tomatoes), wanted a new boat or something. And we certainly can’t blame the B-actors who fill out the cast. If I were that smug-looking guy from the O.C., or if I had previously resorted to starring in an Uwe Boll feature, I’d jump on the opportunity to be in a film with Pacino. But what of screenwriter Gary Scott Thompson (The Fast and the Furious)? His screenplay manages to employ almost every film cliché imaginable—for example, we are treated to not one but two cackling, maniacal villains who are motivated by pure evil and love nothing more than delivering monologues to explain their diabolical schemes. How could a self-respecting writer turn in such a risible script without even using a pseudonym?

Then again, it’s understandable that every person involved in this film seems to have decided to go about his job in the most half-assed way imaginable. Presumably, the number of people who see Al Pacino thrillers is fairly static—the film’s quality matters little, as long as Pacino yells a lot and roughs people up for a few hours. Thus, I assume that when Thompson got this assignment, he opened a six-pack, turned on his laptop, and pounded out a screenplay in a little under two hours; perhaps the film’s title is actually a reference to how long it took to write? And, really, who could blame him? I’d phone it in, too.

The victim of Thompson’s justifiable laziness, however, is anyone who enters a movie theater not expecting to be assaulted by massive idiocy. Pacino plays Jack Gramm, a club-hopping, womanizing forensic psychologist and part-time college professor. (Huh? When did forensic psychology become sexy?) We discover that Gramm’s court testimony helped convict a serial killer, “The Seattle Slayer” (Neal McDonough, Minority Report), who is now on death row. But alas, people start dying, the real killer may be on the loose, Pacino gets a phone call warning him that he only has 88 minutes to live, one of Gramm’s bland, interchangeable students may have it out for him, and so on. We need a new word to describe this kind of movie because nothing happens which can actually be classified as “thrilling.” The film meanders from “mystery” to “mystery” until—surprise—it turns out the most obvious, if rather incoherent, explanation was correct all along. Films like this are supposed to be fun, but the excitement tends to be ruined when the plot is resolved in the least exciting way possible.

One thing 88 Minutes does urgently convey, however, is the need for a moratorium on films with protagonists whose main conflict ironically mirrors their profession. Much of the film’s pathetic stabs at emotional drama revolve around whether Pacino’s Gramm is in touch with his own psyche—at one point, a colleague declares, “You need to start assessing yourself.” Get it? Gramm is a psychologist, but he might need to spend some time getting in touch with himself! Suggesting that a psychologist may have his own psychological issues is not a sufficiently intriguing premise to build a movie on, and yet 88 Minutes is so pleased with this wonderful concept that it repeats the observation several times, never attempting to move past it. Irony is not the same as cleverness, and this tiresome film trope needs to be put to rest before it devolves into movies centered on exterminators who can’t eliminate the one thing that really irks them, astronauts with personal-space issues, and airport luggage handlers who need help carrying their own emotional baggage.

Even the movie’s few redeeming qualities are ephemeral. A couple minutes of screen time are dedicated to a character named Guy LaForge, who dresses in black leather and stalks Al Pacino on a motorcycle. At one point, LaForge indirectly provokes a hilariously harried Pacino to run around a parking garage, demanding to inspect everyone’s hands for bite marks (trust me, it doesn’t make any more sense in context). Sadly, Pacino calms down, and LaForge’s presence is fleeting, squashing any chance 88 Minutes had to be good, dumb fun.

For all its aforementioned irksome qualities, however, the film’s title ends up being its most unforgivable offense. Despite its stupidity, 88 Minutes doesn’t really disappoint. Pacino yells a lot; things explode without cause; the inane plot is resolved. Did anyone really expect anything more? But, gosh darn it, the one single thing presumably promised by a film entitled 88 Minutes is a film that’s 88 minutes long. The damn thing clocks in at 108. I doubt it would have affected box office receipts at all if they had just gone with the film’s original, more accurate title: A Few Hours of Crap Starring Al Pacino.