So, who is threatening to kill forensic psychologist Dr. Jack Gramm (Al Pacino), calling him on his cellphone and whispering menacingly...

Share story

So, who is threatening to kill forensic psychologist Dr. Jack Gramm (Al Pacino), calling him on his cellphone and whispering menacingly that he has only 88 minutes to live? Could it be the convicted murderer/rapist (Neil McDonough) whom Gramm helped put on Death Row? Or one of his university students, all of whom appear sinisterly lit and simmering with discontent and grudges? (You wonder how he ever gets the nerve to teach class, with all those scowling faces staring at him.) His teaching assistant (Alicia Witt), who harbors a dark secret of her own? His devoted office assistant (Amy Brenneman), who’s also got one? The dean of the law school (Deborah Kara Unger, glasses alluringly sliding down her nose), ditto? The weird-looking security guard at Gramm’s apartment building?

Really, anyone who’s had to sit through Jon Avnet’s “88 Minutes” — a disjointed, ugly mess of a thriller — would harbor violent feelings against Gramm; as the film’s grim countdown continued, I wondered if I could possibly bump him off myself and end the movie. Pacino, in a surprisingly subtle performance (far better than this movie deserves), races from office to campus to apartment and back again, encountering numerous smoldering women and sputtering plot twists. And, since no thriller seems complete these days without gratuitous torture porn, we’re treated to some repellent scenes of violent crime, practiced upon nubile young victims in lingerie. Is Pacino really this hard up for work?

The only enjoyable elements to this film are Pacino’s impressively hardworking hair (no matter how bad Jack Gramm’s day gets, his exuberant hair looks fabulous) and a cameo appearance by our own city. Though mostly shot in Vancouver, B.C., “88 Minutes” ostensibly takes place in Seattle — Gramm teaches at the “University of Northwest Washington” — and there are just enough local shots to give a Northwest audience the giggles. In one scene, Gramm (who’s commandeered an agreeable cabbie’s vehicle) drives frantically past Seattle’s waterfront and under the viaduct, arriving moments later at his campus office — which is located at the University of British Columbia. Hey, traffic’s never that good.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com