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A waste of 88 Minutes

Shameful film squanders Al Pacino’s talent

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It’s hard to know where to begin to discuss the laundry list of silly concepts, illogical premises and examples of overacting and poor production values that made the 108 minutes I had to sit through 88 Minutes one of the most unpleasant moviegoing experiences of the year, so far. For a film that clearly is spawned by a series of key back stories especially involving Al Pacino’s character, forensic psychologist Dr. Jack Gramm, it is a shame that there are lots of “dots” here, but all too few “lines” to connect them.

More than once, I found myself silently going, “Huh?” as I attempted to figure out the plot — and this isn’t about trying to guess some kind of surprise ending either. There are far too many moments and scenes in 88 Minutes that just don’t make any sense.

On top of all that, this picture starts out seemingly planned as a 24-type “real time” adventure, and yet that obviously goes by the wayside early on when you realize director Jon Avnet clearly is working on a clock that must be from another planet, where an Earth minute translates into five or six minutes.

There are so many heavy-handed tricks employed. Virtually every supporting character has at least one moment where they give a suspicious turning glance toward Pacino or the camera — an all-too-obvious ploy to make the audience think, “Aha! That must be the person out to get Dr. Gramm!”

Here’s the setup: After showing us the grisly, tortured murder of a beautiful Asian woman nine years previously, we flash forward to the day “Seattle Slayer” Jon Forster (played with manic intensity by Neal McDonough) is scheduled to be executed. His conviction rested on the testimony of Gramm and the less-than-perfect accusations made by the murdered woman’s twin sister.

Just listening to Pacino’s courtroom scene, where he condemns Forster, is ridiculous. All he basically says is, “In my opinion this man is a serial killer and he will rape and kill again.” There’s no smoking gun. No zinger testimony that would realistically impress any real-life jury. But nevertheless they convict him and sentence him to die.

Of course, Gramm is a superstar. Though on faculty at a Seattle university, he lives in what appears to be a multimillion-dollar condo (outfitted with state-of-the-art security gadgets), drives a Porsche, and generally lives the good life. He obviously has made a fortune as a prized expert witness for the prosecution in many, many homicide cases. As the film unfolds, we eventually learn just why Gramm was drawn to this profession, though fairly late in the movie in a melodramatic scene showcasing Pacino’s ability to emote.

Suddenly, on the day of the slated execution, another woman is found brutally killed and suspended from the ceiling of her apartment — a call girl whom Gramm just happened to have bedded the night before, following a party at a bar with his class of college grad students. Since the ritualistic murder completely matches the modus operandi of Forster, authorities begin to question whether, in fact, they have convicted the wrong man.

Gramm’s cell phone rings and a computer-disguised voice informs him he has only 88 minutes left to live. From there we’re on a less-than-thrilling chase against a clock that certainly isn’t ticking in real time.

In the end, it’s a shame to see someone like Pacino again waste his enormous gifts on a piece of junk like 88 Minutes, a film that should have been released straight to video, if at all.

88 Minutes

One and a half stars

Stars: Al Pacino, Alicia Witt and Leelee Sobieski

Director: Jon Avnet

Rated: R for disturbing violent content, brief nudity and language

Theaters: Century Olympia, Galaxy Tacoma 6, Galaxy Uptown Theatre, Lakewood Towne Center 12, Longston Place 14, Regal Martin

Village 16

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