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MRQE Top Critic

Alias: Season Three

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15 Minutes wants to be a smart social commentary / cop thriller but instead it falls flat on its face as it quickly turns into one of the most relentlessly stupid and shamelessly manipulative movies in quite some time.

De Niro gets down in 15 MinutesThe problems with this movie extend across the board, right down to the main characters. Robert De Niro (Meet the Parents) is uncharacteristically bland as Eddie Flemming, a “celebrity” homicide investigator in New York City. For a crime-fighting hero, Flemming lacks a personality and it’s a wonder he’s become such a media darling. Jordy Warsaw (Edward Burns, Saving Private Ryan), a hotshot arson investigator with his own brand of justice, is equally lacking a compelling persona. Put the two together and you have all the chemistry of oil and water.

America, What a Country!

The story begins in JFK airport, with a Czech and a Russian going through customs. At first blush, they come across as hooligans rejected from a Home Alone casting call. The Russian wants to be the next Frank Capra and make movies in the good ol’ US of A.

However, within minutes of their arrival in Manhattan, they steal a camcorder, murder a couple fellow Eastern Europeans, and set fire to the couple’s apartment. And you can be sure that camcorder was used to record every ruthlessly violent moment. There’s even a witness to the crime, who watches the entire scene through a cracked-open door before running off in hopes of saving her own life.

Thanks to the miracle of modern media, and quite conveniently, the visitors are quick to pick up on the quirks of the American justice system. The two thugs, Oleg Razgul (Oleg Taktarov) and Emil Slovak (Karel Roden), almost immediately learn about Son of Sam laws, innocence by reason of insanity, and the power of the average Joe to get his 15 minutes of fame and make millions of dollars in America by killing famous people, selling his story, and then pleading temporary insanity in order to live a plush life.

New Line must have been temporarily insane to give this appallingly awful waste of celluloid the green light.

As an action flick, it is leaden-paced. As a thriller, it lacks suspense. As a social commentary or satire, it is a failure.

Helter Skelter

Robert Hawkins, a TV news anchor played by Kelsey Grammer (Frasier), proclaims, “If it bleeds, it leads” in regard to the news selection criteria used for his slimy “hard news” TV show. It’s television tripe in the trailer-trash friendly tradition of A Current Affair and Hard Copy.

While those shows have, in reality, gone by the wayside, that same voyeuristic taste has gone mainstream with the preponderance of “reality-based” television shows and in-your-face media coverage. Every intimate moment in the lives of total strangers is free game – and public domain. 15 Minutes wants to somehow capitalize on that taste for salaciousness.

The problem is, while graphically glorifying the pandering nature of smut, whatever message that may have been intended is lost in a maze of hypocrisy. To give the impression you are taking an anti-smut stance and then proceed to fill your movie with two hours of smut is unacceptable.

The movie would have been far more powerful if the audience wasn’t subjected to the viewpoint of Razgul’s handheld video camera as it taped every moment of violence at every possible opportunity. The artistic novelty of such a device needs to be used sparingly.

Overdone, Underwhelmed

15 Minutes lacks any sense of subtlety. Great pains are taken to pummel the audience with all sorts of messages about America today. Whether it be regarding how image conscious the police and fire departments have become, how tacky and exploitative the media is, or how crime can pay, it’s all standard stuff without a trace of originality. It’s as if 15 Minutes exists merely to pour gasoline on a fire that is already raging.

As written and directed by John Herzfeld (whose lackluster career includes the unspectacular 2 Days in the Valley), 15 Minutes includes numerous forehead-smacking moments.

Most notably, toward the climax, a crowd in Planet Hollywood watches in stunned silence as Hawkins presents his lurid newscast. Right. And then Razgul and Slovak get in a spat over the artistic credit for their handiwork right there in the restaurant. Unbelievable.

OK. There are a couple nice moments. While consoling arson victims, Warsaw is fond of asking them if they’d like a glass of water. Also, De Niro gets one nice scene wherein he practices his wedding proposal in a mirror, a sort of twist on his famous mirror scene in Taxi Driver.

And the film’s ending presents the type of satiric moments that the rest of the movie so painfully lacks.

Maybe Herzfeld was after an edgy entertainment that would make people angry. The problem is, the source of the anger has been misplaced. Instead of creating a carefully thought out storyline that examines the issues, Herzfeld uses the issues as an excuse to pander to the lowest common denominator and allows the smut to control the movie. Merely presenting a hodgepodge of today’s hot button issues cannot justify and cover up the multitude of cinematic sins running rampant in this pile of schlock.

At one point Slovak gleefully states, “I love America. No one is responsible for what they do.” That might be true, but with any luck, Herzfeld’s 15 minutes of fame are just about finished.