"15 Minutes" is notable for two things. One is a truly harrowing fire
scene and the other will have to remain a secret. All I can say is that
midway through the film something very surprising happens, something
I've only seen happen in one other movie, and I can't tell you the name
of that film, either. Please forgive me for being so cryptic.
Incidentally, the crow flies south at midnight.
What "15 Minutes" will not be remembered for is originality or finesse.
The violent thriller addresses celebrity culture and media
irresponsibly, themes already (and far better) covered in films ranging
from "Network" to "Natural Born Killers." Director John Herzfeld ("2
Days in the Valley"), working from his own written-in-crayons
screenplay, offers a strutting tabloid newsman who shouts, "If it
bleeds, it leads!" and an immigrant killer who says things like, "I love
America! No one is responsible for what they do!" Subtle, eh?
The title of the film, of course, refers to the beaten-into-the-ground
Andy Warhol prediction that, in the future, everybody will be famous for
On a guilty pleasure level, "15 Minutes" has its moments. I found the
lurid tone, contrived situations and overwrought dialogue good for a few
cheap laughs. Remember though, that I didn't have to pay for a ticket.
If you're preparing to spend hard-earned money on a movie, for God's
sake, seek out a quality production and don't settle for this sort of
The story follows Emil Slovak (Karel Roden) and Oleg Razgul (Oleg
Taktarov), a pair of thugs new to America shores. Within minutes of
their arrival in New York, Oleg, who is such a film freak that he
introduces himself as Frank Capra, steals a pricey video camera from a
Times Square shop. The big man with little boy eyes plans to record
everything that happens to him and his friend, believing that his
"movie" will bring him fame and fortune.
Oleg's documentary takes a dark turn when the pair pays a visit to some
former criminal partners. Emil learns that the money from a bank robbery
has been spent, then murders his ex-colleagues and torches their place
in an attempt to cover up the homicides, all while Oleg keeps filming.
Ah, but there's a witness. Daphne (Vera Farmiga), a jittery hairdresser,
sees it all and, unfortunately, the men see her.
Enter the Americans. Homicide detective Eddie Flemming (Robert De Niro)
is a beloved New York celebrity, thanks to frequent TV news coverage. So
popular is he that Robert Hawkins (Kelsey Grammer), the preening host of
the tabloid series "Top Story," often gathers a camera crew and
accompanies Eddie on busts. Due to the nature of the crime,
just-plain-folks arson expert Jordy Warsaw (Edward Burns) ends up
reluctantly teamed with Eddie. A wary mentor-mentee relationship
develops between the two as they try to find the witness and snag the
Meanwhile, Emil comes up with a plan. He will continue to let Oleg tape
his monstrous acts and sell the snuff footage for broadcast by some
unscrupulous news organization (guess who?). Then he will allow himself
to be caught, plead insanity due to poor self-esteem and childhood abuse
and get a spot in a cushy mental hospital. After a time, he will be
"cured" and released, enabling him to cash in on his fame, safe from
further prosecution due to the double jeopardy provision in our legal
Oh, what a sick world we live in. Thank goodness we have
writer-directors like John Herzfeld to decry a culture that wallows in
the lurid display of violence by creating a movie that wallows in the
lurid display of violence.
To their credit, I guess, the cast plays the hokum straight. Robert De
Niro is fine in an unchallenging role, hindered only by a needless "Taxi
Driver" style scene that has him staring into a mirror while practicing
what to say on an important date. As usual, Edward Burns is annoying as
hell, using his standard "my underwear is too tight" voice to whine and
shout his way through the movie. In the role of media whore, Kelsey
Grammer comes off like Ted Baxter on cocaine. A number of other
well-known faces pop up in cameo roles without making much of an
The bad guys are better. As Emil, Karel Roden overacts in an
appropriately villainous fashion, while Oleg Taktarov steals the show as
the would-be filmmaker, managing to be threatening and childlike at
once. Watch this guy closely - he has the potential for greatness.
That, by the way, is the only time you will ever hear the word greatness
in connection with "15 Minutes."
Copyright © 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott