|Al Pacino||Jack Gramm|
|Alicia Witt||Kim Cummings|
|Lelle Sobieski||Lauren Douglas|
|Amy Brenneman||Shelly Barnes|
|Deborah Kara Unger||Dean Johnson|
|Benjamin McKenzie||Mike Stempt|
|Neal McDonough||Jon Forster|
|Directed by||Jon Avnet|
If you like your women half-naked, strung upside-down from pulleys, and sliced like deli meat, this is the movie for you. Whether the victims are more tortured than the plot is a serious question. Al Pacino stops by to pick up his paycheck as Dr. Jack Gramm, a forensic psychiatrist described by a defense lawyer as “this year’s prosecution expert du jour,” whose testimony sends a fellow named Forster (Neal McDonough) to death row as a serial killer.
The opening scene is particularly noisome, as two nice Asian twins get the killer treatment. One of the sisters survives. She’s the only eyewitness testimony at Forster’s trial, and she’s none too sure about her identification, but Gramm’s expert testimony convinces the jury.
Nine years later, Forster’s appeals have been exhausted and his execution date has come due. But just as justice is about to take its course, women start turning up dead, dispatched with the exact MO for which Forster is about to pay the supreme penalty. Is it a copycat killer? Is Forster innocent as he claims? To make matters worse for Gramm (and for us), he gets a phone call telling him he has 88 minutes left to live. Why 88 minutes? You’ll find out if you see the movie and stay long enough.
You’ll have to stay longer than those eponymous 88 minutes. Theoretically they unspool in real time, but the clock doesn’t start ticking until that phone call comes, nearly 20 minutes into the nasty proceedings. Then, as the voice on the phone says with each succeeding call, it’s “tick-tock, Doc.”
So it’s up to Gramm to save his own skin and find the killer, keep Forster on Death Row, dodge bullets and motorcycles and fire engines and car bombs, and avoid being arrested as the perp when his DNA starts littering the crime scenes like popcorn on the floor of a movie theater.
Just about everyone, including Gramm, looks suspicious as hell. Even in crowd scenes the camera lingers for an extra beat here and there on shifty-looking creeps, and among Gramm’s circle of acquaintance (he admits to having practically no friends) there is virtually no one who doesn’t raise a red flag. In addition to his busy schedule as the world’s leading forensic psychiatrist/star witness, he also teaches at the university, where his students are a bright and dodgy lot. They include his beautiful teaching assistant Kim (Alicia Witt), a clever fellow named Mike (Benjamin McKenzie), and a round-faced, smirking Amazon named Lauren (Leelee Sobieski). Dean Johnson (Deborah Kara Unger), who drops into Gramm’s classroom to announce a bomb threat, doesn’t pass the trust test either. Gramm’s loyal lesbian assistant Shelly (Amy Brenneman) is so loyal that you can’t be sure about her. And when we start dipping into the minor characters, like the security cop at the University, Kim’s ex-husband, or the doorman at Gramm’s apartment building, you realize it’s a jungle out there and paranoia is the most normal of conditions.
Actually, though, you will probably spot the killer pretty early. There’s a scene that practically pins an “arrest me” sign to the back of one of the characters, hard to miss if you are paying any kind of attention.
Through it all Pacino smolders, struts, glowers, and rattles the celluloid as only Pacino can. Even when he’s not trying, and he seldom seems to be trying very hard here, he commands attention. Even when he’s at his most phlegmatic, it’s as if there’s another actor inside him storming around, cracking a whip and working very hard. Pacino is worth his weight in gold to this production, but it must be remembered he’s not a big man.
Director Jon Avnet (who made a nice start years ago with Fried Green Tomatoes, but hasn’t lived up to that promise) does his best to distract attention from the ludicrous script by keeping the action moving at a giddy pace, but it’s no good. There are shoals of red herrings, there are blind alleys, dead ends, twists, and revelations. There are places where continuity and plausibility seem so bizarre that you almost, but not quite, want to see the movie again to see if it all really happened the way you think it did. And the closer it comes to the finish line, the more outrageous and nonsensical things get.
Pacino still makes good movies when they come his way. His Shylock was powerful, but that was four years ago, and it’s been five years since he won an Emmy as Roy Cohn in Angels in America. For that matter, it’s been two years since he played Dr. Jack Gramm, forensic psychiatrist. This movie has been skulking in Columbia’s storeroom since 2006, and it came out on DVD over a year ago in Europe. They don’t come calling with the award-winning material as often when you’re bearing down on 70, even if your name is Al Pacino. So it’s nice to know that he’s still working, but you might want to just take my word for it.
© Text 2008 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be