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15 Minutes

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: 15 Minutes

Starring: Robert De Niro, Edward Burns
Director: John Herzfeld
Rated: R
RunTime: 120 Minutes
Release Date: March 2001
Genres: Action, Drama, Suspense

*Also starring: Kelsey Grammer, Avery Brooks, Karel Roden, Oleg Taktarov, Melina Kanakaredes, Vera Farmiga, John DiResta, James Handy, Charlize Theron

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
No Rating Supplied

"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 15 minutes.

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 cheese.

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 killers.

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 system.

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 impression.

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

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