88 Minutes

If he uses a Dell, run
Jon Avnet
Al Pacino, Alicia Witt, Leelee Sobieski, Amy Brennan
The Setup: 
Al Pacino is hunted by a serial killer who tells him he has 88 minutes to live.

I had heard this movie was awful when it was out, and someone wrote me to tell me I should see it right quick, given how very awful it was, and now I've seen it--and it does indeed plumb new depths of awful, and bravely forges exciting new ways to be awful. But fortunately, it does all this in a really fun way, so let's go for it!

So we open with these two Asian female roommates. One of them goes to bed, while the other turns some music on--which masks the sound of her being slaughtered from the slumbering roommate! For a while, at least. The whole scene goes on quite a while and is QUITE clunky--it just has no rhythm, generates no interest or suspense. But this has almost nothing to do with the rest of the movie, and luckily the rest of the movie is much more entertainingly bad. We join Pacino as Jack Gramm, superstar expert on serial killers, as he gives expert testimony that puts the killer, Forster, away with a death sentence. Then--ten years later!

We join Gramm at his apartment where he wakes up with a young lady approximately 40 years his junior. Get used to it! He's a septugenarian sex symbol. He goes to his office--he is some sort of serial-killer-expert-for-hire and also a college professor... none of it ever really becomes clear. There other cops come, tell him that Forster is scheduled to be executed that night, and that there has been a new body discovered, one of his students, using his killing method--could Gramm have put away the wrong man? The answer might [not] surprise you!

Then Gramm drives his Porsche to his college, where everyone is walking around with an umbrella, despite the fact that it is not raining. This is taking place in Seattle, and if you've ever been there you know that they get mist-rain and very rarely rain-rain, so despite its reputation as a rainy place, almost no one carries umbrellas. So this detail was annoying me, not to mention that this is far from the only scene in which everyone has umbrellas while it is not raining. On his way to class he gets a call telling him he has 88 minutes to live. From this point on, supposedly, the story is told in real time.

So Gramm goes to class, where he is clearly beloved of his students, all but one of whom are female. Now in here is a spoiler, but it's also something that struck me as SO funny, and the movie is shit, so I think you're safe in reading it, but you should skip to the next paragraph if you want to be a big stick in the mud. This turns out to be a movie NOT afriad to engage in a little ever-so-subtle product placement, and if you look, not even hard, you'll notice that everyone in class has an open laptop on her desk, showing its glowing Apple logo quite prominently--EXCEPT the person who turns out to be the killer, who notably has a DELL! People who own Dell computers are PSYCHOPATHIC KILLERS! Not like mentally-healthy Apple owners. OMG, I'm afraid this kept me amused all weekend.

Anyway, Gramm gets another call right in the middle of class, telling him he has like 85 minutes now, and you want him to be like "Hi, I have a watch, thanks, and don't you have anything else to do?" But it's hard to concentrate with all those across-the-whole-room zooms going on.

So he has a conversation with Kim, his red-haired teaching assistant who will become his companion for the majority of the film, a bomb threat is called in to the school, the entire building is evacuated, and Gramm makes it to the parking garage and down to his car--all supposedly in four minutes! Amazing how much you can get done when you really put your mind to it. I here we have a bunch of material meant to make us believe that all of his students are starting to doubt his methods, and believe that maybe Forster has been innocent all along. We're also supposed to believe that the killer is within seven feet of him at all times, as freshly-minted clues are popping up everywhere he turns. When he finds Leelee Sobieski as Lauren attacked by a mysterious red herring, he runs around campus for a few minutes demanding to see everyone's hands. Stopping people in cars--show me your hands! Stopping big guys on motorcycles--show me your hands! Poor Al.

Then he and Kim repair to his GARGANTUAN and quite luxuriously-appointed apartment. Apparently Gramm's little sister was the victim of a serial killer and that's why he's so obsessed. At one point we see a shot of a clock that displays the year--you know, in case you wake up late and need to check what year it is--and see the year displayed as 2005, while this movie is happening in 2007. Are we supposed to believe that Gramm is living in the past? Holy shit, if Gramm's apartment was a portal to two years prior, THEN we'd have a movie. It could be the sequel to The Lake House... The Lake House Slayer. That would be hot. But no, the reality is that this movie was shot in '05 but is such a giga-turd they didn't finally release it until two years later. By the way, this movie is all but sending us constant texts to watch MSNBC, and when you're talking about ballsy prouct placement, why, how about THIS:

Then there's smoke in Gramm's apartment! Then there's a gunperson in the stairwell! Then the building is evacuated! Then Gramm's car explodes! Then he commandeers a cab, bringing the driver along in the back! Then Kim, mid-tense car ride, saying "Was I actually crazy enough to think I could have a relationship with you?" Because, you see, despite Al looking like a baked potato and his appearing every bit his age, EVERY SINGLE young woman in this movie is DESPERATELY IN LOVE WITH HIM. Yeah! Get used to it! Then--it looks like Gramm is the killer of the body found that morning! Then--Gramm's assistant Shelley calls [she's been on the phone every three minutes, I just haven't mentioned her] and says that she slept with hs student Lauren [Sobieski] and gave her the secret codes to his file! Damn those untrustworthy lesbians, who are easily seduced by any pretty girl and will give up state secrets at the bat of an eyelash! Then Jack's boss Carol calls and says that SHE is the killer! And here is where you start to realize what the big problem with this movie is--there's a MAJOR REVELATION every three minutes! It's trying to be a twist-on-a-dime thriller, but they're trying to get about 20 twists onto every dime.

Okay, now one massive snafu that towers above the rest. Gramm's FBI buddy or whoever suddenly wants to arrest Gramm, because evidence points so clearly to him as the killer. Exhibit A is that Gramm's semen was found inside the victim from that morning. This leads to a LONG discussion of whether Gramm shot his semen into a prostitute hired to seduce him explicitly for semen-gathering purposes [really? Someone of Gramm's intelligence wouldn't use a condom or so much as pull out?] and then his semen was removed from that woman and put inside the victim and--I'm sorry, this is simply way too much more than we want to hear about this crusty old man's semen, and it goes on wayyy too long. It goes on, in fact, to the point where you satart to say to yourself "I cannot believe we have been discussing the whereabouts of this guy's spooge, and how or why it may have gotten there, for well on three minutes." Everything having to escalate to 11, the FBI guy pulls his gun on Gramm and he has to talk his way out of it.

So then Gramm takes the cab and, at a red light, starts paging through evidence files. The light turns green, but Gramm is just so involved that he sits there through the green light, as the people behind him start honking and finally going around. Funny thing is, Gramm then sits there through the length of two more lights, but no more horns or even consciousness that he is blocking a busy intersection--he just sits there in traffic unperturbed. Because you see, it is perfectly okay to block traffic and cause public inconvenience if you are like, REALLY concentrating. By the way this is filmed at one of Seattle's more photogenic intersections, where Gramm's story just happens to find him several times during the course of the film.

Now hold on to something, because I'm going to say something positive. The undeniable fact is that Pacino is a professional, even for shit like this, and he does an excellent job on moderating his performance from displaying little agitation in the earlier scenes, up to a fairly crazed don't-give-a-fuck attitude in the later scenes. That's really the only good thing about the movie. We now return to our shit-slinging, already in progress.

Anyway, so while blocking traffic, Gramm realized that the killer is his student Lauren [Sobieski]. Right around that time Kim calls him and tells him SHE did it, and to meet her somewhere. Gramm goes there, and then follows a ludicrously long scene of him rushing up stairs and running across plazas and running up more stairs. It goes on so long you start to worry more whether poor old Pacino might have a heart attack. Anyway, he gets to the top and finds a little tabeaux: Lauren [changed into black leather since she is now revealed as the villain] has Kim tied to a chair, and Gramm's boss Carol hanging upside-down by her leg, dangling over the lobby, ten floors down [the ten floors Gramm just sprinted up--guy would be a little winded, I would think]. So the deal is that if Gramm shoots Lauren, she lets go of Carol, Carol's brains get spattered. But so far Carol has been the most minor of characters, and I don't think anyone in the audience would really care if she bought it. Why not put Kim, who we care about a tiny bit, over there? Not to mention that Carol is visibly about 40 pounds heavier than Lauren, and frankly I just believe that Lauren's weight is keeping her suspended there. By the way, in here we have two flashbacks showing that Lauren MADE Kim say she was the killer, just in case we're too dumb to figure that out. But remember 30 minutes ago when Carol called to say SHE was the killer? That part was just dropped.

So here is what supposedly happened. Lauren visited Forster [remember him? The serial killer in jail?] and fell in love with him, and so she developed this massively elaborate plan to kill various people and seduce others, all as a way of framing Gramm as the killer, and releasing Forster. It's kind of a good twist, that this whole thing just sprung from the infatuation of a naive girl twisted to her ends by an evil prisoner--it's just that they buried this needle at the bottom of a towering narrative haystack, so by the time you get to it there's been just too many ludicrous twists on top. Not to mention that when you finally realize who the killer is you start to imagine her running around like a gerbil on crack trying to get all this stuff done! Someone should make a movie about THAT, the killer with their massive To Do list: 1) Seduce victim, gut her, 2) Make menacing phone call, 3) Meet hired prostitute and remove semen from her, 4) Menacing phone call #2, 5) Get to garage just before Gramm arrives in order to write message on car window, 6) run back and implant semen in woman I gutted...

Anyway, if you are a proud graduate of 3rd grade I'm sure you know that someone shows up and shoots Lauren, and Gramm has to run and catch Carol--and Kim!--before they go over the precipice. And it all works out fine. Then Forster calls and wants to talk to Lauren, and Gramm gets to tell him she's dead, and HE has 12 hours to live! Wa-Ba-BOOM! The end.

But WAIT! Also on the disc is the ALTERNATE ENDING, in which we learn that Forster is actually an alien and must be freed from prison so he can go help his planet prepare for the invasion! No, that's not it, but if it was, I wouldn't be surprised, after all this film has ladled on, and frankly, it would be a better all-round picture. At least then it would make SENSE. The alternate ending makes us watch the ENTIRE 7-minute final confrontation again, unaltered, then reveals the the changes are the addition of two scenes afterward. Well then WHY did we have to sit through the climax again? Look, we have things TO DO. So in the alternate ending Gramm returns to class, has a little discussion with Kim, then gives a LONG fucking speech about what he's LEARNED, or whatever. Thank God someone realized that we had been punished enough.

Holy Lord was this a piece of shit! You just have to kind of stand back and wonder at it. You have the initial scenes of the opening murder, which are just somehow flat and tension free [and poorly-acted]. In retrospect, I suspect that scene was added later, once they realized what a turd they had on their hands. After that you're watching and it's hard to tell what's wrong with the movie, since it's professionally-made and is... you know, no worse than anything else. It's just that with the gimmick of everything happening in less than 90 minutes, it's impossible not to realize how ludicrous it is that all of this would happen in such a short time. So you have insane twist piled on on insane twist, which is enough to sink the movie, but they choose to add a bunch of additional elements, like all the various murder attempts. So you tell the guy he has 88 minutes to live, then try to kill him at 23, 37, 45 and 56 minutes? Kind of defeating the elegance of your own plan, right? Not to mention that the killer is calling him every 30 seconds to tell him how much time he has left. Don't you have things to DO? Don't you have semen to implant, or something? And because the film's real-time gimmick makes it so action in a single location has to be stretched--will we ever get OUT of that parking garage?--it becomes necessary to enhance the action with unending cell phone calls. If each of us had a nickel for everytime this screenplay read: Phone Rings, I think we'd all be able to retire early.

And then there's the sexual politics. I think I read somewhere that this was intended for someone else, but Pacino stepped in... and well, they should have taken another go at the script, because the reality is that this guy looks every bit the 67 years Pacino was at the time, and to suggest that EVERY SINGLE 23-30-year-old woman in the Pacific Northwest is THROWING herself at him is more than a touch ridiculous, and also distasteful, and in fact a tiny bit revolting. As is the fact that this character is actually engaging with them, as we see with the hired young prostitute he slept with at the beginning. The film repeats several times that he doesn't sleep with his students, but if he's apparently engaging in sex with young women--and unsafely ejaculating in them--can he really claim this mark of moral distinction?

But this movie is an interesting and special kind of bad, because we would really be able to take most of it if they didn't just keep PILING IT ON. I started out thinking "What's the big deal? This isn't that bad" [by which I mean: No worse than anything else], but then he gets the phone call, and then there's a bomb scare, and then someone's attacked Lauren, then someone tries to kill him, then he's running around looking at people's hands, then this, then that, and after a very short time it becomes quite laughable. Which is one good thing about it: It's bad in a way that is genuinely funny. The first breakout of humor is when he's running around insisting to see everyone's hands, then you have Kim's SUDDEN relationship talk [maybe save it for when you're out of mortal peril?] and the kicker for me was when Gramm had to talk his way out of an arrest, and if that wasn't enough, talk his way out through a long and laborious discussion of the travels and current whereabouts of his spunk.

Anyway, whew! What a refresher! Just a good clean bad movie to take the edge off, and one that's not too long, either. Invite the friends and get wasted, this will give you plenty of mirth.

Should you watch it: 

If you love to mock bad movies, you sure should! If you want to watch a serious thriller with your favorite actor, Al Pacino, maybe something else.