Every once in a while, a movie comes along that makes you wonder why anyone involved actually wanted to make it. Here's a film from an accomplished team of filmmakers, that include director Jon Avnet and Oscar-winner Al Pacino, yet the material is so derivative, needlessly exploitative, and thoroughly unpleasant that I just can't fathom it's appeal. Did Pacino really need a paycheck this badly?
The screenplay by Gary Scott Thompson is a poor stew of a TV police procedural, serial killer movie and torture porn flick. Pacino plays Dr. Jack Gramm, a forensic psychiatrist who works for the FBI in Seattle. Almost a decade ago, Gramm was instrumental in sending a serial rapist and murderer (Neil McDonough) to jail, thanks to damning testimony. Now, after a series of copycat murders, Gramm gets a mysterious call from a stranger, who says only that he has 88 minutes to live. The rest of the film then plays out (in real-time) as a ticking-clock thriller with a whodunit, as Gramm must beat the clock to unmask his pursuer and nab the copycat killer.
Admittedly, '88 Minutes' seems to have a decent hook for a thriller, until you realize that just about the same concept has been used before, most notably on the 1988 Dennis Quaid thriller 'D.O.A.' -- only that movie was good. '88 Minutes' is marred by awful execution, making this one a real howler -- it's poorly plotted, lamely acted, and so filled with red herrings and possible suspects that I expected Angela Lansbury to appear in the final reel and explain to us who did it. ("It was Colonel Mustard in the Library with the Lead Pipe!")
'88 Minutes' is bad on so many levels it hurts. The narrative and directorial choices are odd. Gramm is the only 60-plus year-old forensic expert in the world who can bed just about any of the beautiful, half-his-age students at the university where he guest lectures, but I guess since this is Pacino (and the movie apparently needs gratuitous shots of naked coeds in Gramm's apartment to spice things up) we are just supposed to accept it. Then there is the cast of possible suspects. Is it his top student (Leelee Sobieski?) His teaching assistant (Alicia Witt)? His secretary (Amy Brenneman?) Or perhaps the dean at the University (Deborah Kara Unger)? Perhaps you have noticed that all of these names are women, a fact which, when you combine it with the film's scenes of surprising visceral torture, reveals a not-so-thin streak of misogyny that's oft-putting. Is this a Pacino movie, or 'Hostel Part III?'
Pacino does little to acquit himself here. He's played this kind of cynical, grizzled detective/cop/FBI dude a zillion times before, but in those past efforts he was usually backed up by literate scripts and complex characterizations. '88 Minutes' doesn't so much recall past Pacino greats such as 'Serpico,' 'Dog Day Afternoon' and the underrated 'Cruising' so much as make us wish he would never play this kind of role again. Pacino sleepwalks through the film, to the point that it's not so much an embarrassing performance (he can at least make horrid dialogue sound vaguely plausible) as dispiriting. Why don't great actors take their cinematic legacies more seriously by not agreeing to appear in dreck like this?
Is there anything good about '88 Minutes?' Aside from its basic premise, sadly no. Even the film's production values, while typical Hollywood high-gloss, are generic. The film looks little better than your basic made-for-cable potboiler, the direction is unmemorable, and the B-list supporting cast (does Leelee Sobieski really still have a career?) are wasted. Add to that an utterly serious tone that quickly turns the film into camp, and in '88 Minutes' you have what may be the worst studio film of 2008.
Sony offers '88 Minutes' as a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.40:1). I found the image weirdly unpleasant, with a washed-out appearance and a just plain ugly, tweaked out color palette.
Noticeable from the very start are the weak black levels. They are oddly grayed out, with contrast too bright on the lower end of the grayscale and a lack of bright whites. The image far from pops, and looks lethargic. Hues, while deeply saturated, can't overcome the poor blacks, so everything has an ugly, colorless cast. Fleshtones certainly don't benefit much either, with everyone's skin looking rather hideous.
Overall visible detail is merely average for a high-def presentation. Daylight scenes fair a bit better here, but even they lack anywhere near the three-dimensional quality of a first-rate Blu-ray. The image is at least sharp, and the print is in pristine shape. The encode is also perfectly fine, with only some light noise throughout. '88 Minutes' is watchable, but just barely.
'88 Minutes' enjoys a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit), in English and French. Unfortunately, it's not much better than the video. While certainly professional, the film's sound design is quite bland.
Surrounds are weakly employed. Discrete effects are sporadic at best -- for a supposedly tense thriller, I expected rear channels to match. Sustained minor atmosphere is equally lacking, and even the score is front-directed. The track is at least polished, with a slick studio sheen. Dialogue is nicely recorded and balanced properly. Low bass is perfectly adequate for the material. Too bad '88 Minutes' is such a nondescript and unmemorable soundtrack, there's little else to say about it.
Sony has produced a meager batch of extras for '88 Minutes.' Given the film's lack of box office success and critical acclaim, this is hardly a surprise. (All video elements are presented in 480i/MPEG-2 video only.)
'88 Minutes' is an unpleasant and thoroughly mediocre thriller that traffics in lame torture porn cliches and that, quite frankly, Al Pacino should have avoided at all costs. This Blu-ray ain't much better, with a poor transfer and only decent audio and supplements. '88 Minutes' isn't even worth a rental.