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'15 Minutes' is a waste of time

This needlessly violent film displays the worst traits of the tabloids it claims to criticize: an empty-headed story fueled by exploitation.

By STEVE PERSALL

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 8, 2001


15 Minutes is a sadistic, simple-minded thriller that plans to rub our noses in everything that's wrong about the media and serial violence. Instead, John Herzfeld's movie becomes part of the problem, skirting the boundaries of taste and becoming a kind of artificial snuff film.

Herzfeld's movie comes alive only when someone is dying, usually with stylish flourishes from a filmmaker tripping on something that excites him.

Certainly, there is little in 15 Minutes suggesting that the writer-director is doing this for his art. This is the most soulless, needless waste of dramatized life since Joel Schumacher's 8mm, which also had the temerity to lecture about morality while displaying none itself.

Robert De Niro stars as Detective Eddie Flemming, a cop working closely with the tabloid show Top Story, hosted by Robert Hawkins (overacting Kelsey Grammer). Eddie sets up audience-grabbing busts, and Robert is there to document them on camera. Eddie has even been on the cover of People magazine. Nearly all the characters in 15 Minutes are defined by their celebrity or lack thereof.

Eddie could make an intriguing character study, but Herzfeld is more interested in setting up ghastly criminals for him to catch. Two Eastern European visitors named Emil and Oleg (Karel Roden, Oleg Taktarov) arrive in the United States itching to kill. Why they're so violent isn't important, just that they're brutal about it.

And, of course, they need a "hook," a modus operandi to creep us out, like the deadly sins killer in Seven. Oleg and Emil's hook is that they were raised on Frank Capra movies, developing a love of cinema that urged them to record their murders on videotape: It's a not-so-wonderful death.

The video angle enables Herzfeld to get fancy with his exploitative violence, using color filters, optical effects and footage shaky enough to make the Blair Witch dizzy. The problem isn't what Herzfeld shows -- this isn't as graphic as Hannibal, for instance -- but rather the way he dotes on carnage. If he spent as much care developing characters or his ruminations on society, 15 Minutes might be tolerable.

Herzfeld's idea of fleshing out Eddie's personality is having him nervous about proposing marriage to his TV reporter lover (Melina Kanakaredes). Several dull scenes are devoted to the relationship, with little result except posing her as a potential victim. Eddie talks tough, but so do any other movie cops. De Niro's performance is suitably gruff but nothing special.

Eddie needs a sidekick, of course, and the fact that Oleg and Emil set an apartment fire to hide evidence allows Herzfeld's stretch to include Edward Burns as arson investigator Jordy Warsaw. Nothing else about the role is special, making his late shift to center stage even more of a letdown. That, as an actor, blank-faced Burns can't even check his wristwatch convincingly is another shortfall.

15 Minutes idly sketches heroes and indirectly celebrates killers, just like the tabloids Herzfeld props up as easy targets. Ideas are raised, given cursory attention, then dropped for the next violent wave to wash over the audience.

Finally, the movie goes off the deep end after something dire happens to Eddie, leaving the movie without any dramatic compass. The final 45 minutes of 15 Minutes get downright irritating with their arbitrary perils.

The whole affair leaves a bad taste, as if we've been subjected to the very offenses we're being warned against. Herzfeld "talks" out of both sides of his mouth, never caring if anyone acts logically as long as things get rough. Just bleed, baby, bleed.

MOVIE REVIEW

15 Minutes

Grade: D

Director: John Herzfeld

Cast: Robert De Niro, Edward Burns, Kelsey Grammer, Melina Kanakaredes, Karel Roden, Oleg Taktarov, Vera Farmiga

Screenplay: John Herzfeld

Rating: R; violence, profanity, sexual situations, nudity

Running time: 120 min.

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