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Dr. Jack Gramm is a brilliant and famous criminal psychologist who's best known for giving the testimony that put rapist and serial killer Jon Forster behind bars. On the eve of the criminal's execution, however, another woman is murdered. The victim is tied up with ropes and suspended from the ceiling by one leg—the exact method of torture and rape that Forster was convicted of. The repeated modus operandi raises enough questions that Forster's lawyers gain an immediate stay of execution for their client.
There are a few more flies in the ointment as well. When the FBI investigates this latest atrocity, agents find physical and DNA evidence that Dr. Gramm was on the scene of the crime. And it turns out the victim was a student of his. That on-scene evidence, Gramm's past involvement in the Forster case and his reputation as a seducer of young women suddenly make him look pretty suspicious.
The famous doc has friends in the FBI, though, and he's able to convince them, at least temporarily, that he's being set up by a copycat murderer. Then, out of the blue, he gets a mysterious call that promises his death in 88 minutes. Suddenly, his students, colleagues and friends all appear to be, potentially, in league against him. Convinced that Forster is orchestrating everything from his death row confinement, Gramm sets out to prove the man's guilt. Or at the very least, solve his own murder ... before the clock runs out.
In spite of character flaws—particularly his propensity to seduce most of the women around him—Dr. Gramm proves himself to be a relatively good man who will put himself in harm's way to protect others. He pulls his student, Kim, out of the path of a hurtling motorbike and protects her from an exploding car. He searches for another student's attacker. He also grabs a rope, and is almost pulled to his death, to save a falling woman.
Dr. Gramm's executive assistant, Shelly, fears that the doctor won't be able to forgive her for making a dangerously stupid mistake. He comforts her with, "If I can't forgive you, Shelly, I don't deserve you."
Dr. Gramm has a one-night fling with a young woman. The next morning he watches her as she stands, naked, holding one leg above her head while brushing her teeth. We see her full profile. And we later see a flashback scene of this same woman revealing her breasts as she drops a top off her shoulders. Kim takes her shirt off in Dr. Gramm's apartment, revealing a brief, low-cut camisole underneath.
All of the murder victims are young females who've been stripped of all their clothing save bra and panties. It's stated in court that Forster rapes the women he murders, and one dark, shadowy scene hints at his sexual arousal while he's near one of them.
Shelly says that she let a female student seduce her. We see them kiss. We also see the student kiss another woman.
88 Minutes' violence is visually cryptic, but extremely visceral nonetheless. The most detailed scene shows one of the victims being attacked, drugged and hoisted by one leg with ropes. The killer slowly cuts her thigh with a scalpel. When her sister wakes and stumbles upon the scene, he subdues her as well. And we witness both girls hanging upside down with blood flowing into their faces. While being shown the murders that occur later, we see several different suspended girls from the back and then with blood-covered necks and faces.
In an emotionally pulverizing scene, Dr. Gramm plays a recording of his 12-year-old sister screaming for his help as she's being abused and murdered.
A killer in a motorcycle helmet shoots a man in the back. And an FBI agent shoots someone through a plate glass window. That person falls seven stories to her death. One student claims to have fought off an attacker, and she has cuts on her face and hands. Blood flows from her nose and mouth. A booby-trapped car erupts in a massive explosion. Kim and Dr. Gramm both have guns, and both brandish them. Someone purposely starts a fire in Dr. Gramm's apartment building. A bound and bleeding woman is suspended seven stories off the ground.
Crude or Profane Language
Characters use the s-word five times and the f-word once. "H---," "b--ch" and "d--n" get a workout. God's and Jesus' names are both taken in vain���God being combined with "d--n" on at least a half-dozen occasions. A man makes obscene gestures.
Drug and Alcohol Content
During a bar scene (and subsequent flashbacks), Dr. Gramm and a group of his friends and students drink wine and beer along with other forms of alcohol. Dr. Gramm has a large wine rack in his apartment.
The murderer uses an animal tranquilizer called halothane to drug his prey.
Other Negative Elements
It's implied that Dr. Gramm urged a witness to give false testimony during Forster's trial.
There's something appealing about a good movie mystery. It's particularly fun to apply your deductive reasoning and solve the cinematic puzzle before the hero does. (Especially in those classic pics where a private detective with a fedora pulled down over one eye grumbles out lines like, "The car stuck out like spats at an Iowa picnic.")
But there's not much to deduce in 88 Minutes.
The movie does have a consummate actor, Al Pacino, carrying the lion's share of the dramatic burden for the duration of its grinding 88-plus-20 minutes. The old pro does his gritty method-acting best to keep everything working, but the script is so thin that he sometimes looks a bit silly trying to make it appear weighty.
The whodunit utilizes classic mystery movie-making devices such as a ticking clock and enough storyline red herrings to fill a fish market. A lot of those suspiciously side-glancing characters and dangling plot points, though, add little more than confusion to the tale and just don't fit together by the final reel.
So instead of making sense, the director settles for titillation and shock by introducing more nearly naked female victims. He tosses in flashbacks of a seductress exposing her breasts and some shots of a blood-dripping scalpel in hopes of keeping the audience distracted from the ugly—it-ain't-really-workin'—truth. But in doing so, he makes the end product uglier still.
There is indeed something appealing about a good movie mystery. But the operative word is good, a state of being 88 Minutes couldn't attain in any amount of time, much less in an hour and a half.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Al Pacino as Dr. Jack Gramm; Alicia Witt as Kim Cummings; Leelee Sobieski as Lauren Douglas; Amy Brenneman as Shelly Barnes; Neal McDonough as Jon Forster; William Forsythe as Special Agent Frank Parks
Jon Avnet ( Righteous Kill)