A slop bucket of misconceived tricks, rigor-mortis mood, and laughable intentions, Jon Avnet
's 88 Minutes certainly isn't the first bad movie that the still-feral Al Pacino
has top-lined but, for one reason or another, it feels like the first time that the actor hasn't tried to save himself from the sinking ship. In the vein of Untraceable, another vacuous thriller too hard-nosed to play it loose or be creative, Avnet and Pacino indulge in full-blown gimmickry while happily feasting on every sweaty-palmed cliché in the '90s thriller grab-bag.
Set in Seattle, the titular ticking-clock device doesn't actually kick in for a solid 20 minutes, giving time for Pacino to wake-up to a naked woman half his age in his kitchen and a fresh copycat murder checked off his to-do list. The one-time Serpico plays Jack Gramm, a forensic psychiatrist awaiting the execution of a killer sent to the needle over his testimony. That killer, Jon Forster (Neal McDonough
), says Gramm is crying wolf and gets time on MSNBC and radio to bemoan the current state of psychiatry's interference with the legal process. Trying to quell doubt amongst his students, Gramm receives a phone call telling him he has 88 minutes to live. Article continues below
Avnet struts in a chorus line of possible suspects including Gramm's student teacher (Alicia Witt
), two students (Benjamin McKenzie
), the dean of the college (Deborah Kara Unger
), and Gramm's partner (Amy Brenneman
), each of whom is given a darkly-scored, sepia-tinted flashback to the night before the murder. Things only get more complicated as Gramm is implicated in the killings by an old cop buddy (William Forsythe
) while Forster alludes to knowing about Gramm's clock of doom after he receives a stay of execution.
In the much-maligned Gigli and Two for the Money, Pacino gave off the feeling of inflation of persona: Both characters, a schizo mob boss and a merciless bookie, respectively, took the actor's excitable abilities and bold anger and cranked them to 11. You could rope his ruthless tycoon in Ocean's Thirteen into this set, but the saving grace, for him and the film itself, was the bulletproof camaraderie that everyone in the film labored under. In Avnet's film, however, Pacino gives all his go-to moves just enough time on screen to make it look like he's trying. His tirades seem forced, his desperate hush seems panicky, and his world-weary cop routine borders on self-parody. The actor might have seemed like he was playing roles in his sleep before, but this one is definitive proof of paycheck over passion.
Pacino feels like a bankable source to disguise mediocrity but a dud is a dud and Avnet is wholly indifferent to the idea of playfulness or fun. Out of all the innumerable faults on display in 88 Minutes, the most nagging of them all is the film's consistent need to take itself seriously in the face of honest-to-god buffoonery. But the fun doesn't end here, folks: In a few months, Avnet will release Righteous Kill
, a similarly-minded serial-killer romp pairing Pacino with that other paradigm of lost ferocity, Robert De Niro
, and none other than 50 Cent
. I haven't seen it yet, but sometimes you've just got to trust your gut on these things.