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By Pete Vonder Haar | April 18, 2008

Just as the passage time teaches us that our parents aren’t infallible and the government isn’t populated by our best and brightest, so too does it ravage our greatest actors, turning them from quixotic artistes into by-the-numbers paycheck w****s. Time replaces the edgy Robert De Niro of “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull” with the family friendly “Analyze This” version, while venerated talents such as Jack Nicholson and Gene Hackman stop making films like “The Last Detail” and “The Conversation” in favor of lowest common denominator bilge like “The Bucket List” and “Runaway Jury.”

And then there’s Al Pacino, whose knack for accepting almost every role offered him has obviously served as an example for contemporaries like Hilary Swank. This is all the more maddening when you recall that – for a while during the 1970s – the guy could do no wrong: “The Godfather,” “Serpico,” “The Godfather: Part II,” and “…And Justice for All” featured roles any actor would’ve slept with Merv Griffin to get. He was Hollywood’s Golden Boy, until he inevitably stopped taking riskier roles in favor of lighter fare. “The Insider” and “Glengarry Glen Ross” were high points in a career with fewer and fewer of them. Even Pacino’s belated Best Actor award for “Scent of a Woman” couldn’t hide that.

So it shouldn’t really surprise anyone to hear that ”88 Minutes” is one small step for bad filmmaking and one giant leap for the increasing insignificance of the former Michael Corleone. Here, Pacino plays Jack Gramm, a Seattle psychology professor whose side gig is playing forensics expert for the FBI (though judging by his impressive fake bake, he might also be moonlighting for Hollywood Tan). Nine years ago, his testimony was instrumental in sending Jon Forster (Neal McDonough) to death row for the rape and murder of a young Seattle woman. Now Forster is mere days from execution, when another murder committed in eerily similar style casts doubt not only on the prisoner’s guilt (though to be fair, could anybody as creepy looking as McDonough be innocent?), but on Gramm’s credibility as well.

Oh, and somebody with a voice modulator just called Gramm to tell him he has 88 minutes to live.

“88 Minutes” goes off the rails so early and so often it’s hard to target specific areas for ridicule. Let’s start with Pacino himself; Gramm is not only surprisingly blasé about the prospect of being murdered in an hour-and-a-half, but he’s such a fabulous profiler that it isn’t until the movie’s forehead-slapping finale that he finally comprehends who the villain is. Writer Gary Scott Thompson (“2 Fast 2 Furious”) also springs plot revelations upon us with no logical prologue, introduces crucial information in flashbacks to scenes we never got to see, and links characters to each other long after one could credibly accept such relationships. Finally, Gramm is surrounded by a bevy of attractive female students and co-workers (Alicia Witt, Amy Brenneman, Deborah Kara Unger…I’ll reluctantly include Leelee Sobieski on that list), almost all of whom seem eager to sleep with him, and any of whom might be involved in the plot to kill him. Add a graphic lesbian scene or two and you’d have a Joe Eszterhas movie.

From each preposterous twist to each increasingly absurd action sequence, “88 Minutes” is as dumb a movie as you’re likely to see this year, and may go down as Pacino’s worst ever. And while we’re at it, what is up with that hair? I’m not a guy who generally notices continuity errors, but when even I can see the main character’s hair (or toupee, or whatever the hell that is on his head) changing styles, parts, and frizz from scene to scene, it must be pretty blatant. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t matter if Pacino was as bald as John Travolta, “88 Minutes” is crap.

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