88 Minutes

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Time is of the essence for Al Pacino's Dr. Jack Gramm, a forensic scientist who receives a threatening call on his cell phone informing him he's got all of 88 minutes to live.

But a scant hour-and-a-half can seem like a hellish eternity when you've got a nonsensical, exposition-heavy script (by Gary Scott Thompson) and stagy directing (by Jon Avnet) to work with, not to mention an official running time that actually exceeds the American-German co-production's real-time gimmick by almost 20 minutes.

Made two years ago and already in DVD release in some foreign territories, this ridiculous thriller would be hard-pressed to last much longer than its title in theaters.

When two copycat killings take place within hours of the scheduled execution of Jon Forster (Neal McDonough), who was found guilty of being the serial killer known as the The Seattle Strangler, the media is beginning to wonder if Gramm's nine-year-old testimony convicted the right guy.

While Gramm is convinced the grisly killings are the work of a copycat killer, he finds himself with more pressing problems when he receives a personal, time-sensitive death threat from somebody who would appear to be operating within his own circle of colleagues.

As the body count continues to hit ever closer to home, Gramm is required to cut through the mounting paranoia and whittle down the list of potential suspects before it's too late.

It will actually take a lot less than 88 minutes for most audience members to figure out whodunit thanks to some clunky execution that effectively tips the culprit's identity within the first half-hour.

The old built-in ticking clock is a trick that can work successfully on a show like "24" or, to a lesser extent, in a film like John Badham's 1995 thriller, "Nick of Time," but it requires expert calibration from both the writing and direction to pull it off.

A quickening of pace would also be a prerequisite, but in the case of "88 Minutes" the accompanying action is more of the head-scratching than the pulse-pounding variety.

While Avnet is a filmmaker with a proven strength for character-driven literary drama like "Fried Green Tomatoes," he seems out of his element here, especially the one provided by Gary Scott Thompson's ragingly artificial copycat of a copycat killer picture.

Pacino, sporting a wild hairdo and facial hair that seemingly channels the late Wolfman Jack, counts on his old bag of tricks to pump some credibility into his character, but this time they only take him so far.

Also squandered is a talented supporting cast including Alicia Witt, Amy Brenneman and Leelee Sobieski, among the list of possible suspects, who have all, apparently been instructed to overplay their roles on the potentially guilty side.

With something like eight executive producers on board, it's not surprising that the prevailing visual style would be best described as quick and dirty, with a barely-disguised Vancouver subbing for Seattle.

88 MINUTES
TriStar Pictures
A TriStar Pictures and Millennium Films presentation of a Randall Emmett/George Furla production for Equity Pictures Medienfonds GmbH & KG III and Nu Image Entertainment GmbH.
Credits:
Director: Jon Avnet
Writer: Gary Scott Thompson
Producers: Jon Avnet, Randall Emmett, Gary Scott Thompson, Avi Lerner
Executive producers: Danny Dimbort, Trevor Short, Boaz Davidson, George Furla, Andreas Thiesmeyer, Josef Lautenschlager, Lawrence Bender, John Baldecchi
Director of photography: Denis Lenoir
Production designer: Tracey Gallacher
Music: Edward Shearmur
Co-producers: Michael Flannigan, John Thompson, Samuel Hadida, Marsha Oglesby, Jochen Kamlah, Gerd Koechlin, Manfred Heid
Costume designer: Mary McLeod
Editor: Peter Berger
Cast:
Jack Gramm: Al Pacino
Kim Cummings: Alicia Witt
Lauren Douglas: Leelee Sobieski
Shelly Barnes: Amy Brenneman
Carol Lynn Johnson: Deborah Kara Unger
Benjamin McKenzie: Mike Stempt
Jon Forster: Neal McDonough
Running time -- 106 minutes
MPAA rating: R

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