Al Pacino has reached the point William Forsythe has supporting roles in his movies. That facet just about sums up 88 Minutes, which would have been a great late 1990s Dimension movie, maybe even with Pacino, and all those young actors Miramax had on call (I’m thinking it would have been most effective with Neve Campbell in the Alicia Witt role, throw a young Josh Hartnett in Ben McKenzie’s role, hey, there’s even room for Skeet Ulrich). As a late 2000s movie, however, it’s real silly. It’s Pacino in a real time thriller–shot in Vancouver, which does a fine Seattle impression; it’s depressing. As a thriller, it’s okay… it never gives the viewer enough information to spoil the conclusion, so it’s somewhat surprising.
It’s also very cheap. Not just because it shot in Canada, but because lots of the scenes are set-based and dialogue heavy. It’s not exactly real time, it cheats a little, so tightening up the dialogue wouldn’t have been a bad idea. Gary Scott Thompson is a bad writer and the dialogue and plot resemble a TV episode from the 1980s. It’s not terrible though, because Pacino runs with what he can. His character is problematic–he doesn’t really have a story or a subtext, the womanizer bit plays more on Pacino’s image than anything else–and the movie avoids becoming a real movie about psychiatrists who sell their testimony. Pacino’s sort of a maverick cop psychiatrist also–he can handle a gun, he lectures state’s attorneys–watching it, one imagines Avnet told him to “do the Heat thing,” but quieter. There’s nothing to the character or any of his relationships. It’s a narrative only because it’s Pacino. He fools the viewer into caring when the script is actually failing.
The supporting cast is so-so. Amy Brenneman is pretty good as Pacino’s assistant, as is Deborah Kara Unger as his boss. Leelee Sobieski (Rose McGowan in the Miramax version?) is bad, kind of goofy really. As the bad guy, Neal McDonough is lousy. Alicia Witt holds her own during some of it, not during other parts. Forsythe is Forsythe playing an FBI agent.
88 Minutes could have been–I realized as Pacino runs across a deserted campus (deserted campuses are cheaper to shoot on, I imagine, even in Canada)–a decent academic thriller, juxtaposing Pacino’s role as an educator with his testifying for cash. There’s no sensitivity to the movie, which I guess was heading straight to video until recently (it wrapped in late 2005). It’s a fine enough serial killer programmer (good ones are extraordinary exceptions), but it’s Al Pacino. He shouldn’t have to do movies like this one.
Directed by Jon Avnet; written by Gary Scott Thompson; director of photography, Denis Lenoir; edited by Larry Webster; music by Ed Shearmur; production designer, Tracey Gallacher; produced by Avnet, Thompson, Randell Emmett, Michael P. Flannigan, George Furla and Avi Lerner; released by Tri-Star Pictures.
Starring Al Pacino (Dr. Jack Gramm), Alicia Witt (Kim Cummings), Leelee Sobieski (Lauren Douglas), Amy Brenneman (Shelly Barnes), William Forsythe (Special Agent Frank Parks), Deborah Kara Unger (Carol Johnson), Ben McKenzie (Mike Stempt), Neal McDonough (Jon Forster), Leah Cairns (Sara Pollard) and Stephen Moyer (Guy LaForge).