One of the things that distinguish great actors from merely good ones is that they can elevate the sorriest of scripts through sheer performance. Like any actor whose career spans more than three decades, Al Pacino has starred in his share of turkeys. But even in the worst of them — "Revolution," say, or "Cruising," or "Two For the Money" — he always gives you someone interesting to watch.
That is the case with "88 Minutes," which has been sitting on the shelf for more than a year, presumably while studio executives figured out how to release it to a paying public without leading to pitchfork-and-torch mobs at the multiplex. This is easily one of the silliest, most preposterous thrillers ever made, and the only reason it didn't go straight to video has to be that it stars Pacino.
The actor plays Dr. Jack Gramm, a playboy professor of forensic psychiatry with a penchant for getting dragged into footchases, shoot-outs and shouting matches. He gets to do all three when he receives a phone call informing him he has 88 minutes left to live — just as a serial killer (Neal McDonough) he helped convict gets a stay of execution after a new string of murders suggest he might be innocent.
Director Jon Avnet ("Fried Green Tomatoes") must have missed the memo that stated "88 Minutes" was supposed to take place in real time a la "24," because the film eats up 20 minutes setting up the plot before the gimmick kicks in. A lot of time is spent setting up potential suspects who might have a reason to want Gramm dead: There's his faithful assistant (Amy Brenneman), his ex-lover (Deborah Kara Unger), his graduate assistant (Alicia Witt) and a pair of his best students (Leelee Sobieski and Benjamin McKenzie).
The answer, when it finally comes, makes as little sense as the rest of this logic-defying thriller. Best to just bask in Pacino, who obviously knows what he's gotten himself into but still gives it his best shot. It takes a world-class actor to make a line like "If I can't forgive you, I don't deserve you" sound like something someone would actually say.
See the trailer and find local showtimes for "88 Minutes."