The great Al Pacino may have only 88 minutes of movie stardom left if he keeps picking dogs like this one. Criminally wasting the legendary actor's considerable talents, this ineptly written and directed crime thriller casts Pacino as a brilliant FBI forensics psychologist whose expert testimony lands a death sentence for a convicted serial killer. Nine years pass and just as the guy is about to be executed, his signature crimes start happening all over again, with Pacino suddenly thrust into a race against time to solve the mystery and save his own life.
The real mystery is why Pacino felt any attraction to Gary Scott Thompson's amateur-hour script in the first place. In his 40-year screen career, with a few glaring exceptions such as Revolution and Cruising, Pacino has had an uncanny eye for great material and a knack for knowing exactly what will challenge him as an actor. He must have done this one for the money, because along with the dopey words, Jon Avnet's lazy direction leaves him twisting in the wind as he is forced to give conviction to lines like "Someone is trying to scare us" after a motorcycle nearly flattens him and his companion. (Uh, yeah, Al, we could have told you that!)
The picture opens with the brutal torture and murder of two 20-something Asian twins, played by Tammy Hui and Vicky Huang, who likely got cast based on attributes other than those of the thespian kind. After serial killer Jon Forster (Neal McDonough) is convicted for the crimes and given a death sentence, he promises revenge on Jack Gramm (Pacino), the man Forster is convinced put him away. Cut to nine years later on the day of the scheduled execution, and suddenly his signature murders start happening again, the newest victim turning out to be one of part-time professor Gramm's university students. As he fights to prove this is the work of a copycat and prevent Forster's stay of execution, Gramm begins receiving a series of eerie phone calls pronouncing he has just 88 minutes to live. Thinking he may be the target of an inside job, Gramm enlists the aid of his assistant (Amy Brenneman) and some of his brightest graduate students to help, particularly two women (Leelee Sobieski and Alicia Witt). Unfortunately for him, his mysterious past starts to cloud his future as even his FBI colleagues begin questioning his motives.
Although it's nice to find work these days, it is hard to imagine what any actor could have done with this grade-Z material. Pacino, decked out with an unfortunate hairstyle, seems lost in this part -- it's so sad to see someone of his stature relegated to this kind of below-average popcorn fare. He's not the only one shooting blanks, though. Brenneman is competent but wasted in her thankless role as his assistant. Witt's and Sobieski's rather juicier roles give the talented young stars perhaps their most embarrassing screen outings to date. Some of their key moments are cringe-inducing. Of the rest of the cast, William Forsythe as Pacino's skeptical FBI colleague emerges unscathed along with The O.C.'s Benjamin McKenzie, bland but credible as another student. But it's clearly Pacino's show and, sadly, represents a very low point in an otherwise remarkable career.
The good news for all involved? This will probably be hitting the bottom of the bargain barrel at Wal-Mart in less than 88 minutes.
Genre: Crime thriller
Directed by: Jon Avnet
Written by: Gary Scott Thompson
Starring: Al Pacino, LeeLee Sobieski, Alicia Witt, Amy Brenneman