From the Archive: “88 Minutes”

March 16, 2012

[This week, the jokesters at How Did This get Made? took on the Al Pacino classic 88 Minutes. I got there first…]

200px-eighty_eight_minutes_ver3Sometimes you come across a movie so stupid, pretentious, incompetent, hackneyed, and best of all totally oblivious to how stupid, pretentious, incompetent and hackneyed it is, that the weight—the cosmic mass—of its sheer badness simply causes it to implode and compress until it becomes a bright and shining jewel of cinematic failure. Oh sure, there are bad movies that are a struggle to watch all the way through. There are bad movies that unfold like a 110-minute train wreck. There are even bad movies that you watch with sheer incredulity. But then there are the rare and precious bad movies which are so sublime in their badness that they elevate it to a type of art. Movies that you simply surrender yourself to and exclaim, “Yes! Yes, I will follow you wherever your addle-minded creators choose to take us, oh celluloid apocalypse, for the sheer joy of witnessing your unprecedented suckitude!” Reader, Jon Avnet’s 88 Minutes is just such a movie!

I think I first knew that I was in presence of such bad/greatness shortly after the movie’s intro sequence in which a serial killer goes about murdering his nubile, young victim (who conveniently pads around her apartment in black lingerie) by hanging her upside down by one leg and, uh, I guess that just kills her. Director Avnet chooses to cut to scenes of her cat eating out of her cat-bowl rather than show how she’s murdered. The victim, for her part, moans in what appears to sexual satisfaction. I don’t think that’s what Avnet was shooting for.

But fear not, for the serial killer is put on trial. Avnet artily intercuts scenes of the trial with scenes of a seaplane taking off. What does a seaplane have to do with the trial of the Seattle Slayer (Neil McDonough)? Damned if I know, but it sure is portentous. Still, as overcooked as that is, we also get dialogue like this:

 “I object on the grounds that the witness has put forth a hypothetical depiction of the Joanie Cates crime scene that is pure fantasy, filled with convenience and wrapped in a perfectly symmetrical bow. My client grieves for the victims of the heinous crime and fears that more women will be killed as the real murderer remains free, cackling at the folly of these proceedings.”

To get the full effect, you need to recite this with a beauty pageant-contestant’s fake-smile and a slight hesitation, as if you’re not sure of what half the words you’re saying really mean.

This is our guide through the wilderness of "88 Minutes." Be afraid. Be very afraid.

After the murderer is convicted (and the plane takes off without incident) the movie begins. Al Pacino wakes up to a beautiful woman in his living room simultaneously doing yoga and brushing her teeth. At this point I knew the movie’s badness would indeed be awesome. So, Pacino plays Jack Gramm, a forensic psychologist who freelances for the FBI and local cops, and whose testimony got the Slayer convicted. He also teaches a psych class at the local college, which appears to be attended solely by coquettish coeds. And he has a massive office with limitless resources run by his personal assistant, a lipstick lesbian named Shelly (played by Amy Brenneman, who manages to look a solid 15 years younger than she did during Judging Amy). Anyway, it’s the day of the Slayer’s execution and everybody’s happy. Yay! Slayer’s getting slayed ! Joanie Cates’s sister even brings Gramm cookies. Sort of a “thanks for getting my sister’s rapist/murderer the needle” gift. Then, on his way to class, Jack gets an ominous call from an electronically-disguised voice that informs him that he has 88 minutes to live. 

What, did you just forget for the past ten years that you're hot?

To prove his point, the voice kills one of Jack’s students in the same manner as the Slayer. Is it a copycat? Or did Jack send the wrong man to jail all those years (nine) ago? From here on in, Jack is manipulated like a rat in a maze. He races around Seattle with his foxier-than-foxy TA Kim (Alicia Witt) trying to uncover the mystery of who is calling him and whether the Slayer is actually innocent. In the meantime, they’re menaced by Kim’s psychotic ex, Guy LaForge (really, that’s his name), they survive multiple attempts on their lives, and run into a bunch of dead women Jack has been involved with.

"Dude, you gotta get me off this picture. Pacino's a freaking LUNATIC!"

In addition to wanting to kill him, the voice wants to frame Jack as well. This seems like overkill to me, but what do I know? Kim also learns the significance of 88 minutes. See, Jack’s little sister was murdered by a serial killer when she was twelve years-old (and, for some reason or other, dressing like Half-Pint on Little House on the Prairie), and he tortured her for 88 minutes. The viewer learns this when the killer has a cassette tape of Jack’s sister’s anguished cries for help delivered to Jack. But how could the killer have gotten it when “I keep that recording in my most secure area?” Better question: what does the security in Jack’s most secure area consists of? Laser tripwires? A piranha-filled moat? Indiana Jones-like booby traps? Swiss guards? (Oooo! I hope it’s Swiss guards!)

"Damn, I knew I should have given my Swiss Guards the day off for Escalade!"

As it turns out, the most secure area was breeched when one of Jack’s students seduced Shelly after a study session at Jack’s office (Jack apparently runs his class more less the same way Hef ran the Playboy Mansion in the ‘70s) and slipped her a mickey. But which student? And why?

Well, I could tell you, but that would ruin it and I really want to you to see this movie, and behold its amazing badness. I mean, this movie is like the Ark of the Covenant of badness. It could slay Nazis with its amazing power of badness. It causes us to puzzle over questions such as what’s up with Pacino’s wild-haired performance? Why every woman around him is jaw-droppingly beautiful (including the Dean of the University, who’s played by Deborah Kara Unger in sexy librarian glasses). What up with Gramm’s seeming unlimited financial means (how many serial killer cases are there to consult upon?) And how it is the Slayer manages to rape his victims, when he’s hoisted them up off the ground and has them hanging by one leg (he’s like a cross between Ted Bundy and a Cirque du Soleil performer). This movie simply refuses to quit before it has given you a ration of improbability and illogic the size of a bison with Acromegaly.

Stare at this image for 110 minutes. That's more or less what this movie is like. With more crazy.

Words really don’t serve this movie. Nothing I write could do justice to the scene in which Gramm looks with suspicion at his class over a wall, his eyes darting back and forth, like some demented Killroy. Likewise, you have to truly witness the sequence in which Jack, searching for a student’s assailant, runs about madly accosting people by shouting “I’m a forensic psychologist! Let me see your hands!” And you should be free to root out your own favorite motifs in this film—mine is the way Jack constantly manhandles Kim in the name of protecting her: first by body-slamming her into a car to save her from a speeding motorcycle, and next by throwing her to the ground seconds before his car explodes and shielding her by placing his hands squarely on her breasts.

"Is the rack okay? Good, the rack is okay!"

The movie doesn’t play out in real-time, either, though its running time does. When Gramm gets the call informing him of his 88 minutes, the movie has 88 minutes of run-time remaining. But Gramm gets to rush across town, discover (yet another) dead body, intercept Shelly, and learn the truth of how his most secure area was breeched all within four minutes. Also, there is no traffic in Seattle, so that helps.

Avnet has a pretty lousy track-record when it comes to directing. He’s unleashed Close-up and Personal and Red Corner upon us, but neither of those films even hinted at the dazzling badness he looses upon the world here. I don’t know if he realized that he was stuck with crazyman Al Pacino and not Oscar-winner Al Pacino and so he decided to film the movie with tons of snap-zooms and pans and sweeps to distract from this fact, or if Pacino read the final script and just decided to show up drunk everyday. I suspect that it’s a chicken and egg argument. Whatever happened, Pacino and Avnet seem hell-bent on out-incompetenting each other, and the result is bad-movie Heaven.


  1. I can’t believe you didn’t mention the cookie eating and “MILK MAID!!!” scene.

    • I know. There was just so much craziness in that movie, that one totally slipped my mind.

  2. Al Pacino’s hair is so big in this movie that it needed someone to do stunts. How did they get it to do that? It’s like Conan O’Brian big hair. Come to think of it, it looks a lot like my 67-year-old aunt’s hair. I don’t know who looks better…

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