Gary Scott Thompson and Jon Avnet's twisty tale of a forensic psychiatrist given 88 minutes to live by a shadowy sociopath might have made an entertainingly direct-to-DVD B-movie thriller with the courage of its sleazy convictions. But expectations are different for a theatrical feature starring Al Pacino, and by those standards it's a preposterous misfire.
Nine years ago, Jack Gramm's (Pacino) testimony helped put Jon Forster (Neal McDonough) on death row for the torture killing of Joanie Cates (Vicky Huang). Dubbed the "Seattle Slayer," Forster always maintained his innocence, claiming both that Gramm lied under oath and that forensic psychiatry is voodoo science. On the eve of Forster's execution, the Seattle police discover a crime scene with all his trademarks: Is it the work of a copycat killer, or was Forster wrongly convicted? Worse still, the victim was one of Gramm's Northwest Washington University students; the FBI has picked up on rumors that he was sleeping with her, and the killer taped her pleading with him to admit that he falsified testimony. Shortly after, Gramm receives a phone call telling him he's going to die in 88 minutes. Over the course of the next hour and a half, Gramm is threatened, attacked and finds himself suspected of two gruesome murders. He becomes convinced that his tormentor must be someone close to him who's inexplicably conspiring to help Forster get a stay of execution and maybe even a new trial. Could it be Gramm's assistant, Shelly (Amy Brenneman)? Perhaps one of his students, like whip-smart Lauren (Leelee Sobieski) or sullen Mike (Benjamin McKenzie)? How about his teaching assistant, Kim (Alicia Witt), or maybe her ex-husband (Stephen Moyer), who did time at Walla Walla Prison -- where Forster is confined -- and has been lurking around a lot recently? Maybe Dean Johnson (Deborah Kara Unger), who seems to resent Gramm, or the creepy campus security guard (Brendan Fletcher) fascinated by serial killers? But as evidence against Gramm mounts, even his old friend, Agent Frank Parks (William Forsythe), begins to wonder whether he's become a murderer.
Thompson supplies plot twists galore, none of which make a lick of sense: The 11th-hour -- sorry, 86th minute -- revelation of the killer's real identity is truly groan-inducing. 88 MINUTES opened in the U.S. a full year after its DVD release in several territories, and marked a low point in Pacino's career -- physical as well as artistic, in that every woman in the cast towers over him. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh