My favourite Al Pacino film is Insomnia, which I really enjoyed. The more recent serial killer movie 88 Minutes is not in the same league, but it is certainly one of fastest and most furious thrillers I’ve watched in a long time. The critics didn’t much care for it, but the pace is so frenetic that you tend not to notice some of the flaws – or the fact that it lasts rather longer than its title suggests.
Pacino plays Dr Jack Gramm, a forensics expert who combines an academic career with a sideline working for the FBI. He has – surprise, surprise – a deeply troubled past, from which he has fled to Seattle, where he enjoys a formidable reputation and a complex sex life. Nine years ago he gave crucial testimony which helped to convict a man accused of being ‘The Seattle Slayer’, a murderer with a penchant for trussing young women up and torturing them. The appeal process has now been exhausted, and the killer is about to be executed when a further killing occurs which bears all the hallmarks of The Seattle Slayer.
The victim is one of Gramm’s students, and soon he receives a phone call telling him that he has just 88 minutes to live. (88 minutes, we learn later on, is a time period which has deep significance for him.) What follows is a dramatic ‘clock-race’, and Gramm becomes understandably paranoid as he narrowly avoids being blown up in a car, and is framed for two murders in quick succession. Someone is out to get him – but who? There are plenty of potential suspects, and I didn’t guess the culprit, though a cynic might say that is because the explanation is so far-fetched.
Overall, for me this film was something of a guilty pleasure. I can see that the story is, when considered in the cold light of day, implausible in the extreme. And Pacino’s hair is as frantic as the action. But 88 Minutes kept me interested all the same. That’s the merit of the ‘clock-race’, in either a film or a novel. You can’t help wanting to know how it will all end.