"88 Minutes" focuses on a college professor (Pacino) who moonlights as a forensic psychiatrist for the FBI and receives a death threat claiming he has only 88 minutes to live.
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By now you pretty much know what to expect when you go to see an Al Pacino movie. You wait for those moments when his eyes bug out and he starts to scream for no apparent reason. This has become a Pacino trademark, and he is often criticized for it. His acting style has become somewhat of a joke to many critics but you know what? I love it. Pacino is now a screen legend, an acting icon, and his outlandish emoting befits his stature. The problem with 88 Minutes, the new psychological thriller directed by Jon Avnet, is that there just isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t enough of that explosive Pacino to keep us interested.
In a dreary, rainy Seattle, Pacino plays Jack Gramm, a well-known forensic psychiatrist and professor at a local college. Prosecutors often use his professional opinion to help convict criminals, and nine years ago his testimony led to the conviction of Jon Forster (Neil McDonough), believed to be the notorious Ã¢â‚¬Å“Seattle Slayer.Ã¢â‚¬Â On the eve of ForsterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s execution, a woman Gramm knows is found murdered in the same brutal fashion as the SlayerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s previous victims. Suddenly ForsterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s guilt and GrammÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s motives are thrown into doubt. Was this killing done by a copycat? Or did Gramm help to put away an innocent man?
As if this wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t bad enough news for Gramm, he also gets a call on his cell phone informing him that he has eighty-eight minutes to live. The movie from that point on, I assume, plays out in real time, although I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have a stopwatch on it. Gramm must now try to uncover who the killer is before his time is up. Why exactly 88 minutes? That answer is revealed at one point in the story, although I presume itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s mostly so that the action can fit neatly within the running time of the movie.
The plot is standard boilerplate thriller. Everyone seems suspicious to Gramm, including his pretty T.A. (Alicia Witt) and an argumentative student (The O.C.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s Benjamin McKenzie, in an underwritten role). As more pieces of the puzzle are revealed, even Gramm himself starts to look like a suspect. What I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t understand is, why is this mystery person going through the effort of framing Gramm, if he/she just plans on killing him in eighty-eight minutes anyway?? And while weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re at it, why is Gramm trying to solve this case himself, instead of calling the police? The script throws characters and plot twists at the audience in an attempt to keep us guessing, but by the end we really donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t care. Take your pick of which character you think is the culprit, and you have a good chance of being right.
Al Pacino is one of those actors, along with Edward Norton and Daniel Day-Lewis, who is always good, even if the material is not. When one of these guys is on screen I am always mesmerized by his performance. But Pacino, who is in virtually every scene in the movie, cannot lift this movie above its standard serial killer conventions. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s tough to evoke dramatic tension out of countless cell phone conversations. All I kept thinking about was how fabulously coiffed his hair was. Neil McDonough isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t given much to do as the alleged killer except rant and rave in a TV interview. 88 Minutes is rated R, although it was barely more graphic or gratuitous than an episode of say, Criminal Minds.