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88 Minutes Stops Short of Satisfaction

  • Christian Hamaker Contributing Writer
  • Updated Sep 19, 2008
<i>88 Minutes</i> Stops Short of Satisfaction

DVD Release Date:  September 16, 2008
Theatrical Release Date:  April 18, 2008
Rating:  R (for disturbing violent content, brief nudity and language)
Genre:  Thriller
Run Time:  108 min.
Director:  Jon Avnet
Actors:  Al Pacino, Alicia Witt, LeeLee Sobieski, Amy Brenneman, William Forsythe, Deborah Kara Unger, Neal McDonough, Benjamin McKenzie

Is there a bigger nuisance at the movies these days than the beeping, chirping, tuneless noise of a ringing cell phone? Cell phones have replaced chatty audience members as the biggest distraction for the ticket-buying public. In recent years, the cell phone has become a character around which movie plots revolve. Think Cellular and One Missed Call, both of which revolve around cell-phone shenanigans. Do either qualify in anyone’s mind as an example of a successful, satisfying film? No one that I know of, and yet, the evolution of the cell phone from public nuisance to starring role continues.

88 Minutes outdoes its predecessors in the public nuisance department. The grating sound of a ringing phone is heard so many times in 88 Minutes that viewers’ teeth will not only be set on edge—they’ll be ground to gum line. When the pesky cell phone crashes to the floor and shatters toward the end of the film, audience members might feel inclined to cheer. It’s the high point in this overheated thriller.

Al Pacino stars as FBI forensic psychiatrist Dr. Jack Gramm, an expert at presenting evidence in court that implicates murder suspects. His efforts to see one suspected killer, Jon Forster (Neal McDonough), put away for brutal crimes against women prove effective. But years later—on the eve of Forster’s scheduled execution—the convict launches a media offensive against Gramm, charging him with falsifying evidence and lying under oath to ensure Forster’s imprisonment. 

Gramm, also a college professor who teaches forensics, begins receiving menacing messages—calls on his phone, messages on his class overhead projector, letters scrawled in the dirt on his car—telling him how many minutes he has left to live. Eighty-eight minutes. Seventy-two minutes. And so on, and so on.

The tormentor has access to Gramm’s schedule and to certain private information. And he uses a telltale phrase—“tick tock”—said by Forster in the courtroom after his conviction years earlier. So Forster is the obvious suspect, but he’s behind bars. Does that make one of Gramm’s students the prime suspect? What about the shady motorcyclist who shows up to stare down the professor during one of his lectures? The school dean (Deborah Kara Unger)? Or could it be Gramm’s loyal assistant (Amy Brenneman)?

The red herrings pile up quickly, but the film moves crisply enough to keep viewers from dwelling on some of the implausibilities in the script. What teacher interrupts his own lecture multiple times to take personal calls on his cell phone? No matter the cell carrier, how likely is it that the phone would have such clear reception both indoors and out? What’s going on with Pacino’s hair? 

Not comfortable with a stock thriller, the makers of 88 Minutes try to give their story a philosophical dimension by suggesting that the story is, at heart, about the consequences of allowing our free will to be compromised. Feeble and clumsy, the related dialogue adds nothing to this uninspired film.

Pacino does a decent job of carrying a film that could have gotten by with an actor of lesser caliber, while the supporting cast of female actors are shown to be either diabolical or easily manipulated. Better are McDonough as the convict with a grudge, and William Forsythe, whose heft and demeanor as a special agent add credence to the story until its over-the-top conclusion.

88 Minutes doesn’t offer much to recommend. Like the Diane Lane thriller Untraceable from earlier this year, it’s a mediocre, at times distasteful thriller that isn’t its lead actor’s finest hour. But like that film, the presence of the star makes the film better than it might have been otherwise.

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  • Language/Profanity:  Lord’s name taken in vain; foul language.
  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Wine consumption; a bar scene.
  • Sex/Nudity:  Woman in bra and panties, covered by an open robe; man wakes up to see woman, with whom he spent the night, brushing her teeth in the nude; multiple references to lesbianism; a woman is said to have worked for an escort service.
  • Violence:  Several scenes of murder victims dangling upside down, with bloodied and bruised faces; victims are shown being terrorized and cut; gun violence; breaking and entering; character is nearly run over twice; a person falls several feet and dies; a car bomb.