When movie fans get together and start discussing the most influential and greatest actors ever, there’s an excellent chance that Al Pacino will be in the top five if not right at the top. And with good reason. If Al Pacino had only performed in “The Godfather Trilogy” his place in movie history would be assured. But he’s assembled a list of classic films that few actors today can match: “Serpico” “…And Justice For All” “Dog Day Afternoon” “Heat” “Scarface” “The Panic In Needle Park” “Dick Tracy” “Looking For Richard” “Carlito’s Way” “Glengarry Glen Ross”…hell, I even like “Bobby Deerfield” “Revolution” and “Author! Author!” But lately Al Pacino hasn’t been hitting them outta the park the way he used to. Oh, he played an okay bad guy in “Ocean’s Thirteen” but it was a performance that anybody could have done. It didn’t have that magic we expect from Al Pacino. And 88 MINUTES isn’t a movie that’s going to enhance Mr. Pacino’s reputation at all. Even my wife Patricia who is an Al Pacino fan from way back in the day (we have epic arguments over who’s the better actor: Al Pacino or my boy Robert DeNiro) was highly disappointed with 88 MINUTES.
Dr. Jack Gramm (Al Pacino) is a popular Seattle college professor who also is a nationally renowned forensic psychologist who’s made a sizeable fortune from his work profiling serial killers for the FBI and various police departments around the country. Gramm’s latest success was in convicting Jon Forster aka “The Seattle Slayer” (Neal McDonough). Forster maintains that he’s innocent and when one of Gramm’s students turns up murdered in the exact same way as Forster’s alleged victims, there’s some doubt raised. Gramm maintains that Forster has an accomplice on the outside who committed the murder. FBI Special Agent Frank Parks (William Forsythe) isn’t so sure. Y’see, Gramm’s DNA is all over the crime scene. To complicate matters, Gramm gets a phone call telling him he only has 88 minutes to live. Why 88 minutes? Because 88 minutes is related to a specific case in Gramm’s past that has extraordinary personal significance for him. Gramm must use his skills and training as a forensic psychologist to identify who the killer is before his 88 minutes run out.
Sounds like thrilling stuff, huh? Nothing could be further from the truth. For a movie hyped as a suspense thriller, 88 MINUTES has no suspense and even fewer thrills. The movie is being sold on Al Pacino’s performance and even that isn’t as dynamic or exciting as we’ve come to expect from him. The movie throws far too many potential suspects at us. Most of who are women. Given that Gramm is supposed to be a rampant womanizer we shouldn’t be surprised when the identity of the killer is revealed. Hell, half of the people in the audience Patricia and I saw it with accurately identified the killer an hour into the movie.
I have to say that Al Pacino looks great in the movie. And he tries his best to make the character and the movie work. Perhaps his best scene in the movie is when he explains to another one of his students (Alicia Witt) what personal meaning 88 minutes has for him. It’s a scene where we can see the Al Pacino we know and love at work. Unfortunately you’ve got to sit through a whole chunk of pretty slow scenes in order to get to it. Amy Brenneman is a standout as Pacino’s assistant and I would have liked to have seen more scenes between them. Which leads into one or my major peeves with this movie: There are way too many scenes where the actors are talking to each other on cell phones instead of interacting on the screen together. I haven’t seen cell phones used this much to convey information since the last season of “24”. Neal McDonough is a fine actor but he’s not given much to do here. I would have liked to have seen more scenes between William Forsythe and Al Pacino as I enjoyed them both when they were in “Dick Tracy”. The Seattle locations are nice to look at as is Deborah Kara Unger and Leelee Sobieski.
So should you see 88 MINUTES? I can’t recommend this movie even if you’re a diehard Al Pacino fan. I wouldn’t even recommend waiting for the DVD and renting it. The mystery at the heart of the story isn’t interesting or compelling and there’s never any feeling that the Pacino character is in any real danger. The amount of suspects thrown at us is laughable and when the killer is finally revealed it isn’t surprising and the killer’s motives are laughable. I’m hoping that Pacino’s next movie, “Righteous Kill” which will re-team him with Robert DeNiro will be a whole lot better. But it wouldn’t have to do much to be better than 88 MINUTES.