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88 Minutes review

88 Minutes

“Average” seems to be the quality of picture that 88 Minutes strives to be, yet still falls short. What it brings to mind is the rash of a certain breed of thriller that seemed to rise in the wake of Seven, half of them seemingly starring Ashley Judd and/or Morgan Freeman. Some were decent (Don’t Say A Word), some not so much (Along Came A Spider). Years after that trend of convoluted suspense flicks died down, 88 Minutes comes along to recapture that sense of clunky, half-assed formula.

Al Pacino phones in another one as Dr. Jack Gramm, a forensic psychiatrist who pulls double duty as a college professor and FBI consultant. After coasting for the past few years on media-darling renown and frequent trysts with women one-third his age, things start coming back to bite him. After his testimony proves to be key in sending alleged serial killer Jon Forster to the waiting line on death row, the accused man starts to drum up a lot of press by earnestly claiming his innocence. Not helping Dr. Gramm’s insistence that the “Seattle Slasher” is the man behind bars is the fact that there are murders popping up again with the murderer’s M.O. all over them. Dr. Gramm soon figures out that his reputation is the least of his worries when he receives a phone call on the scheduled day of Forster’s execution, telling him that his life will be erased in… 88 minutes. And with that, the titular countdown begins as Gramm frantically tries to stave off his own death.

88 Minutes fails in just about every way that a thriller can, which makes it difficult to know where to begin picking it apart. In the first place, Gramm himself is an offensively bland protagonist. He’s a rich, arrogant womanizer whose plight we have little trouble believing he brought on himself. He has no personality, and I just didn’t care what happened to him. In that sense alone, the script falls utterly flat and can’t be redeemed. The other characters with speaking parts, his students and faculty mostly, of course all double as suspects, which means that motives for killing him abound. At this point, the movie will nonsensically explore even the most inane possibility that the guilt lies with the last person who didn’t smile at him in the hallway or return his hello. It’s these types of manipulative plots that irritate me to no end, where the audience is forced to wonder who will fall into the “least likely” category, and therefore end up as the killer. Or not, depending on which way the wind blows and how many twists can be crammed into the bloated climax. The reliance on the cliché of clumsy misdirection practically defines what 88 Minutes is all about: fooling the audience as much as humanly possible without pissing them off.

If all you’re looking for is a popcorn flick that will kill a few dispensable brain cells over the course of a couple hours, you could do worse than 88 Minutes. It’s not necessarily a colossal waste of time if you keep your expectations low, but if I were you, I’d consider heading to the nearest rental store and making it a comfortable evening at home instead. Hell, if you’re even looking for suggestions, I’d be happy to oblige (drew@pauseculture.com). If you must see 88 Minutes though, turn off the ol’ noggin first.

-drew