Fifteen Minutes
Fifteen Minutes USA, 2001. Rated R. 120 minutes.

Cast: Robert De Niro, Edward Burns, Kelsey Grammar, Oleg Taktarov, Karel Roden, Vera Farmiga, Melina Kanakaredes, Avery Brooks, Kim Cattrall, John DiResta, Charlize Theron
Writer: John Herzfeld
Music: Anthony Marinelli, J. Peter Robinson
Cinematographer: Jean-Yves Escoffier
Producers: Keith Addis, David Blocker, John Herzfeld, Nick Wechsler
Director: John Herzfeld


Grade: D+ Review by Carlo Cavagna

Fifteen Minutes is exactly what American History X and Fight Club were unfairly accused of being: a movie that purveys what it purports to condemn. Unlike those other two films, Fifteen Minutes doesn't have intelligence or dark satire to offer. It tries to crowd-please at the same time as it lectures. Does it succeed? Well, it's not boring, but that doesn't mean the thrills are engaging or exhilarating. Does it make its points? With a sledgehammer. Does it have a coherent story? Not really. Fifteen Minutes is your basic heavy-handed muddle. Even Oliver Stone would have been embarrassed to have made this.

Freshly out of jail, Czech Emil (Karel Rodin) and Russian Oleg (Oleg Taktarov) have come to the United States to collect money from an old pal with whom Emil did a job years ago in the homeland. (Of course, ex-cons with no steady source of income in their home countries do not get U.S. visas, but never mind). Having spent the money, the old pal offers Emil a job as a plumber. The offer does not go over well. Camera-friendly detective Eddie Fleming and arson investigator Jordy Warsaw are called in to investigate the resulting murders and fire.

So far, it's a standard set-up for a buddy action picture. The twist is that Oleg, who loves movies, films Emil's reunion with his old friend, and continues filming when the reunion turns ugly. As the bodies pile up, a wild idea starts brewing in Emil's head, catalyzed by the talk and investigative-reporting shows he's been watching in his hotel room. If Oleg continues filming their crimes, they will be able to sell the rights to their story for big money. The lynchpin of the plan is that they must be found innocent by reason of insanity, or by law they cannot profit from their misdeeds. (Of course, successful insanity pleas are quite rare, but never mind.) "I love this country. No one is responsible for what they do," observes Emil.Burns and De Niro

As a premise for an action thriller, this one is more original than most. But writer/director John Herzfeld, who wrote one of the first Tarantino rip-offs, Two Days in the Valley, busies himself making broad denunciations about the evils of shock television and our celebrity-obsessed culture instead of delivering the action/thriller goods. Instead of building suspense, Herzfeld focuses on violence and gore. There's no whodunit, and there's little what's-going-to-happen next, because you've seen most of these story clichés before. There is one Big Surprise that raises the stakes, but it (like the shows Herzfeld condemns) shocks more than it serves the story.

It would help, of course, if either of the main characters were people you'd root for. Fleming is a conceited, camera-hungry alcoholic, and not even De Niro can make him that appealing. Warsaw is a squirrely investigator with bad judgment and a high-pitched voice, particularly when he gets upset. These are both stock parts, just like all the supporting roles. Kelsey Grammar, who must actually say the line, "If it bleeds, it leads!" is the Sleazy Television Personality. Kim Cattrall is the Guilt-Ridden Producer. Vera Farmiga is the Witness in Danger. Melina Kanakaredes is the Neglected Girlfriend. Avery Brooks is the Partner Who Gets Hurt. Charlize Theron (who got her big break in Herzfeld's aforementioned Two Days) is the Pointless Cameo.

Fifteen Minutes lurches to an idiotic, overwritten conclusion where every situation is ironic, every event is a moral point, every symbol is forced, and everything is a symbol. By this time, you will have long ceased to care. If you share Herzfeld's view that our entertainment culture has gone too far, express your agreement by avoiding Fifteen Minutes entirely.

Review © March 2001 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2001 New Line Cinema. All Rights Reserved.

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