Thriller set ups obviously designed to create as much tension as possible are nothing knew. How many films have a ticking time bomb or a threatened girlfriend? In Speed there’s a bus that can’t go under 50mph. In Phone Booth there’s a sniper controlling a man’s every action. In Jaws there’s a shark prowling the water. 88 Minutes also has a plot designed to create tension. That’s why it’s remarkable how lacking in tension it is.
88 Minutes is that rarest of things, an Al Pacino film where he doesn’t play a cop or a gangster. Instead he plays a criminal psychologist, Jack, who works for the FBI, so not too much of a stretch. On the execution day of a man Jack’s evidence helped convict nine years earlier Jack starts to receive death threats. The mysterious voice on the other end of the line tells him he has 88 minutes to live. Jack doesn’t panic, however, which makes for a very dull film.
Basic screen writing requires a dramatic display of the killer’s potential early on so we know they mean business. In Phone Booth the sniper disposes of a pimp in the street so we know Stew could be next. 88 Minutes doesn’t bother, meaning the cryptic death threats aren’t even believed by Jack until about half way through. While films like this would usually feel like a frantic race against time, Jack is just too laid back.
As the evidence mounts against him he dismisses his accusers out of hand and carries on with what he’s doing. Writer Gary Scott Thompson clearly thought the 88 minute time limit would be enough to create an edge-of-your-seat thriller, but he was very very wrong. The direction feels like a kid trying out a box of toys, and would be improved if Jon Avnet (of other Pacino dud Righteous Kill) showed a little restraint.
The biggest mystery here is why Pacino allowed himself to be surrounded with soap opera calibre actors. The hope seems to have been that he would lend this film some much needed gravitas and drag the average up, and while he does manage a solid performance, he can’t compensate for the rest of the film.
One thing I will praise this film for is incidental lesbianism. LGBT characters generally only appear in films when it’s somehow relevant for them to be LGBT, but here a woman casually mentions how she was with another woman, which passes completely without comment. Add to this a number of female characters which far exceeds the token love interest typical of the genre and this aspect of the film at least feels refreshing.
Progressive social values can’t make up for a poorly directed and thoroughly unthrilling thriller, however. The lack of imminent threat or interesting plot kill this film in far less time than 88 minutes.
Give me a sexist, homophobic, exciting crime film over this any day.