Title: 88 Minutes
Cast: Al Pacino, Alicia Witt, Leelee Sobieski, Amy Brenneman, William Forsythe, Deborah Kara Unger, Neal McDonough, Leah Cairns
Director: Jon Avnet
Screenplay: Gary Scott Thompson
Cinematography: Denis Lenoir
Music: Ed Shearmur
Editor: Tim Nordquist
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Running Time: 108 min.
Technical Assessment: 3
Moral Assessment: 3
CINEMA Rating: For viewers 18 and above
An Asian girl is found dead in a Seattle, Washington flat she shares with her twin sister Janie Cates (Tammy Hui): methodically killed, she is hung upside down by a rope, cut by a scalpel and left to bleed to death. Serial killer Jon Forster (Neal McDonough) is convicted on the strength of the testimony of world-renowned forensic psychiatrist Dr. Jack Gramm (Al Pacino). Insisting on his innocence, Forster swears to take revenge on Gramm, all the while hoping to get pardon. On the eve of Forster’s execution by lethal injection, similar killings occur using Forster’s modus operandi, pointing to the possibility that they have indeed imprisoned the wrong guy. Worse, victims include women whom the womanizing Gramm has bedded. Then Gramm gets a mysterious call warning him he has 88 minutes to live. This sets the gutsy psychiatrist—who is a university professor and carries an FBI ID card, being a consultant for the agency—on a lone hunt aided only by his hunches, his gay assistant Shelly Barnes (Amy Brenneman) and, later on, his female student Kim Cummings (Alicia Witt) who has a huge girlish crush on him. But soon, even his FBI buddy Special Agent Frank Parks (William Forsythe) is ready to arrest him, when Gramm’s “DNA is all over the place,” pointing to him as the killer. They have good reason to believe so, since Gramm could be acting on revenge himself—he lost his 12-year old sister to a serial killer employing the same method as the convicted Forster.
If 88 Minutes was never meant to be a technically impeccable movie, but rather intended to keep the viewers on the edge of their seats, it hits its mark. It captures your attention with enough elements piled one on top of the other, and piques your imagination and curiosity so much that your are left with no time to question the loose ends, the jumpy sequence of events, the implausibility of certain developments, etc. Thanks to the arresting presence of Al Pacino, 88 Minutes turns out to be 108 minutes of gripping suspense. Those who invested in the movie were on target in casting Pacino and banking on his reputation to carry the movie through. Particularly in the Philippines, where the average viewer is more emotional than intellectual and therefore couldn’t care less about the filmography of director Jon Avnet or screenwriter Gary Scott Thompson or its less-than-famous actors, something as engaging as 88 Minutes (with Pacino onscreen almost the whole time) is bound to have longer DVD shelf life than any other mystery-thriller currently showing. No matter what the more erudite First World critics say about Pacino’s “lackluster performance” or stooping to accept B-grade movies at this point in his career, the fact remains that as a 66-year old forensics expert harboring guilt over his sister’s fate, Pacino delivers perfectly well. His is not lackluster performance—rather, it is a soulful portrayal of a lackluster persona. Sometimes, film critics who know too much must learn to separate the actor from the role. We cannot imagine Richard Gere or Tom Hanks giving life to Dr. Jack Gramm as effectively as Pacino with his hangdog looks does. As for the “middle-age mediocrity” that critics claim Pacino is caught in, see for yourself—Pacino is Pacino, he can take on any role he damn well pleases and get away with it; he neither needs nor depends on critics’ judgment to prove his acting caliber.
88 Minutes is not a movie for the queasy. Gore flows freely, and close-ups of the serial killer’s modus operandi would make you want to close your eyes for obvious reasons. However, the subject matter and content—rape and murder, conviction of the innocent, respect for the human body, womanizing, ethics in the teaching profession, etc.—provide rich and thought-provoking topics for discussion particularly with young adults. Despite its technical flaws, overshadowed and trivialized by the lead actor’s convincing depiction of the main character, 88 Minutes in the end gives the guilty what he or she deserves, and ensconces justice in its right place.