In which Gerry Hayes repeatedly mouths the word “huh?”
88 Minutes, 2007.
Directed by Jon Avnet.
Starring Al Pacino (really), Alicia Witt, Leelee Sobieski, Amy Brennerman, Neal McDonough.
Written by Gary Scott Thompson.
88 Minutes is one of those films you watch open-mouthed wondering how such a thing could ever be – how someone could turn in a script like that, how a studio would stump up money to make it, how it could attract someone with Pacino’s cachet? These are all excellent questions that deserve answers. I have none. 88 Minutes is simply, inconceivably, massively awful.
If you’re a writer, you watch 88 Minutes and ask those questions like everyone else. Then, if you’re a glass-half-full writer, you think “wow, if that can get made and not get sent straight to the bottom shelf of a DVD store, there’s hope for me” and you start frantically typing a first draft of 90 Minutes, ‘cos that’s two better. If you’re a glass-half-empty writer, you throw things about the house in a rage because hacks like this have Hollywood sewn up and what the hell chance do you have with your carefully crafted, beautifully imagined adaptation of one of Dostoyevsky’s lesser-known novellas? Glass-half-flempty people will do both. I assume.
Such emotions are natural on viewing 88 Minutes because it really is very bad indeed.
The plot, as best I can ascertain, concerns forensic psychiatrist, Jack Gramm (Pacino). A few years ago, his expert testimony convicted a serial killer to death and the sentence is about to be executed (pun intended). However, fresh victims start to show up leading some to suspect that maybe the wrong man was convicted. So far, so by-the-numbers. But then Jack gets a phone call that tells him he’s only got 88 minutes to live. He has to solve the mystery in real time, à la 24. The race is on.
Now, in and of itself, it’s not the most awful plot I’ve ever heard. It’s not hugely original but it had potential for a couple of hours of entertaining vapidity. 88 Minutes has transcended vapidity however. The writer moved 88 Minutes from ‘meh’ to ‘what in the name of sonny-Jesus did I just see?’
Gramm is your standard cliché – intelligent, troubled guy who’s a womaniser and drinks too much. In case we don’t realise this, one of his buddies actually says, “you’re a womaniser and you drink too much.” As further proof, there are lots of flashbacks of Gramm drinking and every woman in the film throws themselves at him (except his gay PA, who explains that she won’t throw herself at him because she’s gay).
The dialogue throughout is a masterclass in how-not-to. It’s on-the-nose and obvious, it’s plain stupid, or it serves only to provide incredibly clumsy exposition. I’m guessing that many scenes took multiple takes as the actors pissed themselves laughing at the lines they’d been given.
The story twists and turns in utterly aimless fashion. Is it trying to throw us off or does it really not have clue where it’s going (it’s the latter, by the way)? There are laughable flashbacks; both to Jack’s previous night’s drinking as he thinks, thinks, thinks to remember important clues, and to an idyllic memory of a child flying a kite which hints at Jack’s inner turmoil. Well, I say ‘hints’…
Truth be told, I’m having trouble articulating how dreadful 88 Minutes is. There is little doubt that without Pacino’s name attached, this would be floundering at the bottom of bargain-bins, but even Pacino phones it in. It’s obvious that his hearts not in it and as for the rest of the cast, where do I start?
Brennerman doesn’t care. McDonough just goes for ‘cold psycho’ and fails to pull it off. I have to assume Alicia Witt is capable of better simply because she’s so wonderfully, wonderfully pretty, but she certainly didn’t act her way out of this wet paper bag. To be fair to her though, she was given some of the worst lines of the film – “what kind of sick, twisted mind could do such a thing?” (Incidentally though, if Alicia would like to get together to discuss classic movies – perhaps over a tea and some cupcakes – I’m sure I could get Mrs. Hayes out of the house for a few hours). The only one that actually seemed to be trying was Sobieski and she certainly wasn’t acting kosher.
Because of the ham, you see? The ham? Forget it.
To list everything that’s wrong with 88 Minutes would take that long and longer. Suffice it to say, it’s certain to rank among the worst films you’ve ever seen.
And for that reason, you really should see it.
Read more I Sat Through That? right here.
Gerry Hayes is a garret-dwelling writer subsisting on tea, beer and Flame-Grilled Steak flavour McCoy’s crisps. You can read about other stuff he doesn’t like on his blog at http://stareintospace.com or you can have easy, bite-sized bits of him at http://twitter.com/gerryhayes