I wonder if any one has done a study to pinpoint the exact moment when Al Pacino gave up any attempt to continue being a serious actor and began regularly phoning it in. His latest, 88 MINUTES, is another in a series of roles in which he is genially disengaged, giving only the most perfunctory of performances as Jack Gramm, ace criminal profiler and complete train wreck, right down to his rooster-inspired haircut.
The plot, which ever so briefly drags the death of poor Diana, Princess of Wales into it, has Gramm being stalked, possibly by one of the many serial killers that he helped convict. That would be, Jon Forster (Neal McDonough), who is on death row, but that doesn’t stop Gramm from being convinced that Forster’s the culprit behind that mysterious voice who calls him on him his cell phone to tell him that he has the eponymous 88 minutes to live. Just as he’s convinced that Forster is the guy who went on a rampage as the Seattle Slayer, trussing up women like pot roasts and carving them like same. But when a new series of murders happen on the eve of Forster’s execution that exactly match the Seattle Slayer’s MO, an MO that has not been made public, other people, like the Attorney General and the FBI, start having some doubts that Gramm dismisses with a condescending umbrage.
That Pacino is the lead in a film that seems barely to have his attention is bad enough. The story, though, goes one better by being both preposterous and ponderous, never a good combination, particularly in a film that purports to be of the thiller genre. Pacino’s efforts include stressing words, seemingly at random, while reciting the dialogue. Even when running for his life, as his character does often, sometimes while waving a gun for added machismo, he is oddly languid. Why Gramm doesn’t go directly to the police after the first call, or the seventh (the caller hits redial to count down the minutes left to Gramm on this earthly plane), or when his Porsche is blown up, is never adequately explained. Instead he goes to Campus Security when the university class he teaches is interrupted by a bomb scare, but not about the death threat. He does, however, keep up a running cell phone dialogue with his gal Friday (Amy Brenneman) back at his consulting firm as he conducts his own investigation. And another running dialogue with his pal on the police force, the one who can make search warrants appear on anyone that Gramm gets a bad feeling about, forget having anything along the lines of probable cause.
In all of this Gram is surrounded by really hot women, and not just good looking, but seriously smoking. From the woman he wakes up with that morning, the one who does nude, tooth-brushing yoga, to his students that all look like they are ready for the centerfolds, to the school dean, who sports a upsweep, glasses, and outfit that looks like one that would be let down, tossed away, and ripped off by someone just before performing a pole dance. The loveliest of the bunch might well be his teaching assistant, Kim (Alicia Witt), who packs a gun to protect herself from an abusive ex, but who tells Gramm when confronted by him that he would never, ever hurt her.
The putative plot twist of 88 MINUTES has Gramm being framed for the new set of murders, but by then the whole muddle has stagnated beyond hope of piquing any interest, brightened only by its fleeting moments of unintentional humor.