“88 Minutes” had all the earmarks of an epic catastrophe: A delayed release date (it’s been on DVD in various parts of the world for more than a year), 19 — seriously, one-nine — producers, and no L.A. press screenings, all of which spelled doom for a movie that stars Al Pacino.
Alas, the movie is a disappointment even at being a disappointment. Rather than being memorably disastrous, “88 Minutes” is merely crappy. It’s not even the worst film of Pacino’s career — “Gigli” retains that sad crown—although it probably makes the bottom five.
“88 Minutes” begins with the kind of grisly, over-choreographed murder that only happens in dopey movies like this one. One 20-something girl is strung up and killed but her twin survives the ordeal. At the trial of Jon Forster (Neal McDonough), Pacino’s superstar forensic psychiatrist Dr. Jack Gramm gives dazzling expert testimony that not only puts Forster behind bars but gets him the death penalty.
Nine years later, on the day that Forster is to be executed, another murder is committed in Forster’s intricate style, leading authorities to believe that either there’s a copycat on the loose or that Gramm’s testimony sent the wrong man to prison. Complicating matters is a phone call Gramm receives, telling him he has 88 minutes to live. As the morning progresses, notes like “76 minutes” and “72 minutes” start appearing in his proximity. (Thus making the killer omniscient, omnipresent and anal retentive for good measure.)
The rest of the movie involves Jack running around, yelling into phones, evading assassination attempts and wending his way through a sea of red herrings, corpses and coincidences. The direction by Jon Avnet (“Fried Green Tomatoes”) is utterly zing-free; if you can’t build suspense around a plot that is literally a ticking clock, then you’ve got no business making the movie at all.
Pacino is hard to watch, not only because he’s too old to be jumping out of the way of speeding cars and having college girls fall in love with him but also because he’s playing the orangest man in Seattle. But having Pacino attached to a crap script (by Gary Scott Thompson, in this case) is obviously catnip for decent actors; somehow, talented performers like Amy Brenneman, Alicia Witt, Deborah Kara Unger and Leelee Sobieski were compelled to hold their noses and sign on for this mess. (Should you be stuck watching this movie on a plane or on a bet, keep an eye peeled for Michal Yannai, who plays Forster’s attorney in the trial scene early on. Her performance is brief, but it’s one of the very worst pieces of acting you may ever see committed to celluloid.)
Given that “88 Minutes” actually runs 108 minutes, it’s tempting to make the joke that the movie is 20 minutes too long. In actuality, it’s 108 minutes too long.