I'm all for civilized moviegoing. But the only way to survive "88 Minutes," the new Al Pacino serial-killer thriller, aside from skipping it altogether, might be to use it as a drinking game. Whenever a woman's corpse is shown hanging from a pulley, or the movie throws in one of its gratuitous flashbacks, or somebody mentions that Pacino's character is a top forensic psychiatrist - have a sip of Fanta. Sugar shock shouldn't be too far behind.
Pacino's Dr. Jack Gramm gets a call saying he has less than 90 minutes until he's killed. Years ago, his testimony helped put the call's prime suspect (Neal McDonough) on death row. So who now could be out to get both him and the random women he knows? One of his grad students (Alicia Witt, Benjamin McKenzie, Leelee Sobieski)? His assistant (Amy Brenneman)? The psych department's dean (Deborah Kara Unger)? Me? This is one of those movies in which everybody's a suspect.
The illogical script by Gary Scott Thompson is desperate to keep us guessing but clueless as to how. Every tin of red herring in the store gets ripped open. In one scene, Pacino runs into all three of his students on different levels of the same parking lot, where the mysterious motorcycle man who's been cruising him for hours also happens to be.
It doesn't take long for the cop-thriller cliches to kick in. Dr. Gramm's gruff detective buddy (William Forsythe) tells him, "It's no secret you're a womanizer, that you drink. You're over the edge!"
It's unclear how much of Pacino's performance Forsythe has caught up to that point. I've seen Pacino over the edge. This is not it. He looks pooped and pickled. Maybe being the only thing standing between a megaplex opening and a trip straight to the $4.99 bin at Target wiped him out. Director Jon Avnet ("Fried Green Tomatoes") sends the camera spinning around his star, maybe hoping to whip him into a frenzy, but he's got no "hoo-aah" left. Pacino seems like he's even seen the movie's ridiculous finale before. Which if he's ever watched a single cheap, trashy thriller from the 1990s, he has. When the actor tells someone, "That's my job, to be convincing," I giggled. This seems true only if Pacino wants to convince us that he'd rather be anywhere but "88 Minutes." In which case, I'll sip to that.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.