In Jan Avnet's 88 Minutes, Al Pacino plays a forensic psychologist named Dr. Jack Gramm who teaches university in Seattle, Washington. Aside from teaching, Jack also helps out the F.B.I. from time to time, providing expert testimony in cases primarily related to his area of expertise - serial killers. One notorious killer that Jack helped put on death row is John Forster (Neil McDonough), who has perpetually claimed he is an innocent man and that Gramm's testimony was purely circumstantial.
On the night that John Forster is to be executed, Gramm's life takes an interesting turn when one of the students he has taught is found dead in a manner identical to the one that Forster used before he was put behind bars. Gramm talks to the authorities about this but insists that Forster was the culprit and that this is simply a copycat murder. Later that day, while in the middle of teaching a class, he gets a call on his cell phone from someone obviously masking their voice. This unknown caller tells Jack that he has only eighty-eight minutes to live. At first Jack thinks this is some sort of prank but when a school employee comes in to the room to evacuate the class due to a bomb threat, he starts to take things a lot more seriously.
As Gramm sets out to figure out who has been calling him and why, Forster hears the news about the copycat killing and asks for a hold on his execution. Meanwhile, one of Gramm's students, Lauren Douglas (Leelee Sobieski), is assaulted by a man in a leather coat inside a parking garage. It's obvious that someone is out for Gramm and isn't afraid to hurt those around him to get to him - but who is it? Jack needs to figure this out because the clock is ticking on those eight-eight minutes...
The sad reality is that as good an actor as Pacino is when working with the right kind of material, he just can't save this one. Surrounded by a mediocre cast and working with a predictable script, Pacino appears to be doing little more than going through the motions. To his credit, he looks the part of a smug university professor/F.B.I. helper-monkey but the enthusiasm and commitment to part that has made some of his more memorable roles as good as they are is completely missing here. He's not terrible, not by a long shot, but he doesn't bring anything unique to the part and for those of us who appreciate what he's capable of, that's got to come as a disappointment. Supporting performances from the likes of Leelee Sobieski, Alicia Witt and Neil McDonough are equally bland, though it's fun to see William Forsyth pop up in a brief supporting role here.
The picture is well made and competent on a technical level. There camera work is nice, the pacing is fine and the film does a good job of capturing the moodiness of its Seattle (or more accurately, for the vast majority of the film, British Columbia doubling for Seattle) locations quite effectively. The, plot, however, doesn't do the film any favors. While there are a couple of marginally suspenseful scenes, anyone who pays reasonably close attention will know who is really behind the killings by the half hour mark. The clues are a bit too easy to spot and the mystery is sucked out of the film far too quickly. A couple of gruesome kill scenes and a moderate amount of fairly intense violence keep things interesting on an exploitative level but the script itself leaves a lot to be desired and (ironically enough) 88 Minutes winds up being one hundred and eight minutes of your life that can be better spent on one of the bazillions of more interesting thrillers that are out there to watch.
Sony presents 88 Minutes in a 1080p AVC encoded 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that looks fairly flat and gloomy. It's likely that much of this is on purpose but the color scheme for the film is cold and drab looking throughout. Detail levels aren't bad, particularly where close up shots are concerned, but some of the finer detail does get lost in the darker scenes. Contrast is a bit flat looking and while there aren't any obvious problems with mpeg compression or heavy edge enhancement, the end result is a movie that looks about as average as it plays out.
Dolby TrueHD 5.1 tracks are included in the film's original English and in a dubbed French option with removable subtitles supplied in English, English SDH, and French. While this isn't exactly home theater demo material, it's not a bad mix even if more surround usage would have made a few of the more intense scenes a bit more enjoyable. Dialogue stays clean and clear throughout the film and the score and sound effects are mixed in nicely at appropriate sounding levels. The vast majority of the mix comes from the front of the soundstage but at least it sounds reasonably good even if it could have been a lot more dynamic than it is.
All of the extras from the standard definition DVD release have been carried over to this Blu-ray disc, but they're all presented in standard definition. First up is an audio commentary track with director Jon Avent. As bad as 88 Minutes is, Avnet comes across as a nice, smart guy and his commentary is actually quite enjoyable. With a laid back demeanor he talks about shooting the film, casting, working with Pacino, as well as pre and post production efforts. He's quite enthusiastic about the picture and is obviously quite proud of his efforts here - a shame that doesn't transfer over to the viewer experience.
From there check out Director's Point Of View, a seven minute featurette that covers Jon Avent's directorial style and what it was like for him to work with the legendary Al Pacino. A lot of this has an EPK type feel to it as it starts off with a look at Avent's career before launching into him talking about how much he enjoyed working on the film and with Pacino specifically.
A second featurette, The Character Within, allows Al Pacino to discuss, for eight minutes, how he tried to make the character his own in this film. He seems to see a lot more meaning and importance in the script than is actually there, but hey, he's at least marginally enthusiastic about the role. Good for him. The movie still stinks.
Rounding out the extra features are an alternate ending (it doesn't improve things even one iota), a slew of trailers for other Sony Blu-ray releases, a Blu-ray promo spot, some nice animated menus, and chapter selection. This disc is also Blu-ray live enabled.
88 Minutes is as predictable as it is mediocre. The Blu-ray presentation from Sony is of fairly decent quality and there are some alright supplements included that do add some value to the package but the movie itself has a 'been there, done that' feeling to it that even Al Pacino can't save. Skip it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.