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15 Minutes C-
Year Released: 2001
Mondo trasho. "Who else but crazy men would film their crimes?" A pair of slippery East European bank robbers (Karel Roden and Oleg Taktarov) visit the United States, discovering the pop psychology of consumer culture when they gleefully start to videotape their mayhem. This wacky duo hatches an elaborate and implausible scheme: sell off the murder tapes to a tabloid news show, turn themselves in to the proper authorities, plead insanity, then get off scot-free living off the wealth of their inevitable movie deals. Surely, there are many holes in their theory. No matter -- writer/director John Herzfeld's cop thriller 15 Minutes is entirely too superficial in its attack to dwell on such mundane trivialities as logic or coherence.
Hulking teddy bear Taktarov and loopy weasel Roden are enormous fun to watch, mugging their way through a series of brutal killings. Yes, you heard me right -- they put on a jolly good show. With all their Malkovich Malkovich facial tics and twitches, it's difficult to take them seriously even as they pummel a half-naked stripper before carving her up with a knife. Horrific stuff, though you wouldn't know judging from the tone of these scenes, often played for giggles. The extreme violence becomes chic abstractions by Taktarov, tinkering with night vision, sepia tones, pixelvision, black and white, whatever else he can think up to add to the "mood" of their crime scene. One wonders how this amateur suddenly became such a first-rate cinematographer, making imaginative use of the camera frame.
15 Minutes simply fails on the level of creating violence with real consequences. There is one manipulative exception late in the film, killing off a major character we've actually grown to like. Unlike Daniel Minahan's uncompromising Series 7, Herzfeld wants to have his cake and eat it, too! We're supposed to be amused and repulsed by the cartoonish shtick of these foreigners, sucked in by a pervasive need to watch. As if Oliver Stone hadn't already driven this material into the ground with Natural Born Killers. We all know what the media is capable of in its shamelessness and savagery. What's left to explore?
As a culture suffering through one painful new reality television show after another, perhaps we're too cynical to be shocked by the content of 15 Minutes. The airwaves are clogged with spotlight-hogging Survivors tripping over each other to create Hollywood deals. Our capacity for shock is no longer receptive to a new lecture on human vice and values, not that any are truly to be found in Herzfeld's muddled script. You'd have an easier time dissecting the morality of Tom and Jerry, forever going round and round in a cycle of pain. That cartoon is actually more honest and revealing than the smug, self-righteous indignation of 15 Minutes.
No potshots are taken at celebrity cop Eddie Flemming (Robert De Niro), who uses the press to help him get the job done. Precisely how the media coverage aids his ability to protect and serve the people of New York City is never accurately explained, nor is his give-and-take friendship with opportunistic journalist Robert Hawkins (Kelsey Grammer). It's one of many underdeveloped relationships that are left hung out to dry, none more so than Flemming's begrudging alliance with idealistic arson investigator Jody Warsaw (an eager-to-please Edward Burns). Their scenes together play as cigar-chomping lectures on Detective Work 101 from De Niro, alternating with Burns furrowing his brow as he yammers on about how little he cares for being in the spotlight. Young screenwriters are taught to include plenty of standard issue conflict into their screenplays, all the better to appease easily suckered audiences.
De Niro is always game, creating a fully realized performance that bears a passing resemblance to virtually every other character he's created for the past 10 years. Gruff, affable, wincing before he speaks -- we're on to him. At least he's having fun, happily mugging in front of a mirror not once but twice in 15 Minutes. (Sample dialogue, only slightly exaggerated: "Hey... hey... c'mon... ha ha... come onnnnn... cuh-monn, cuh-monn, hey -- hey -- ha ha! Pshh!") Three cheers for narcissism. If only mealy-mouthed Burns could take a page out of his book, taking his role far too seriously. The only time he appears energized on-screen are during action setpieces, especially during a life-or-death struggle to escape a burning building. This fleeting scene of genuine suspense is botched by an unimaginative and abrupt resolution. You tell me how he got outta there.
The "15 minutes" of the title refers to Andy Warhol's famous sound bite that everyone will be famous for that length of time. That added layer of image-conscious pretension attempts to elevate this routine cop investigation, searching the crime scene or pursuing suspects on foot through weekday traffic. It's not enough to separate 15 Minutes from the rest of the herd, shot with that unimaginative "solid craftsmanship" of every other mainstream movie these days that no one remembers even 10 seconds after the closing credits.
"Introduced" in the opening credits, even though they've been working in foreign films for years, Taktarov and Roden happily steal the show even when conforming to an irritating "silly foreigner" stereotype. It's doubtful these Europeans would be so out of the loop with American consumer culture, what with its hands constantly groping across the ocean. Despite the logical gaffes and borderline offensive characterizations (foreign accent = numskull), these two charismatic cut-ups managed to have me rooting for the bad guys. Go ahead, fellas! Beat the Yanks at their own game, and if you can find the time, please bust a cap in Eddie Burns so we don't have to suffer through any sequels with Joe Firefighter.
The trailers for 15 Minutes bombastically proclaim that the killing won't stop unless you stop watching. Consider your mission accomplished if you avoid this film. How annoying would it be if I said, "The snappy reviews of this cultural elitist won't stop unless you stop reading!" -- eh? Nauseating, isn't it? Hey -- where are you going? Get back here!
Review published 03.12.2001.
For another opinion, read Rob Vaux's review.
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