It’s official: Al Pacino can no longer be considered a cutting-edge talent. After starring in some truly unfortunate movies (“S1m0ne,” “Two for the Money,” “Gigli”), Pacino has reached what is hopefully his career’s nadir with the laughably bad “88 Minutes.”
The movie opens with Dr. Jack Gramm (Pacino) providing expert testimony in a murder case against “The Seattle Slasher,” Jon Forster (Neal McDonough). Cut to the present day – nine years after the trial – the day of Forster’s execution and the night after Gramm and his students have spent the night celebrating. Unfortunately, one of those students is murdered, and the MO is exactly like Forster’s. Shaken, and now a potential suspect in the Slasher killings, Gramm receives the first in a series of threatening phone calls, putting an 88 minute deadline on his life. These phone calls provide the impetus for the rest of the movie’s action, but although Gramm’s life is threatened a grand total of three times throughout the movie, all the threats are so weak and predictable that Gramm is barely breathing hard by the film’s climactic scene.
As the film progresses, a series of suspects are introduced, but they are all so poorly developed throughout the rest of the narrative that there are effectively no suspects. However, this isn’t really a problem because, again, there doesn’t appear to be much of a threat to Gramm’s life. There are copycat murders throughout the film that are exact duplicates of the earlier ones, but their timing seems to suggest that Forster has an accomplice on the outside, not any sort of wrongful conviction. In fact, the only other possibility that seems to add any drama to this pointless affair-that Gramm himself was in fact the Seattle Slasher-is never given any weight or thought other than some very cursory lip-service in the opening scenes.
“88 Minutes” has been advertised as a detective thriller, but it seems to be missing the two main ingredients of any detective thriller: thrills and detecting. The “drama” of the movie consists mainly of wondering who made the threatening phone calls and seeing what ridiculous distances Pacino can cover when he has five minutes remaining on his 88 minute clock. In five minutes, he travels across Seattle by cab (which he convinces the driver to let him commandeer in a scene that seems significant but later proves to be totally pointless), and then sprints across the University of Washington campus to two separate offices. Either he is a superhero of Flash-like proportions, or the unseen caller has such a poor sense of time as to render the entire deadline exercise totally pointless.
The movie doesn’t tip its hand until the very end, and the perpetrator is totally unexpected, but the criminal is such an ancillary character that it almost doesn’t matter who is committing the crimes-all we need is a face.