15 Minutes

Just because Robert De Niro is one of our finest actors doesn’t mean he always has the finest taste in material. Exhibit A: 15 Minutes, a crude and reactionary piece of pulp posing as scathing media satire. The movie comes on strong; it wants us to know that TV journalists will do anything for ratings, that we’ve created a mollycoddling culture wherein no one is accountable for his own actions, that important decisions are influenced by politics and media image rather than truth and justice (throw in the American Way, too, while you’re at it). In brief, it sounds like some crank on the next barstool venting about how everything is crap.

Maybe everything is. But movies like this, with its deadening by-the-numbers script (by John Herzfeld, who also directed), flatly unbelievable situations, and paper-thin characters, won’t do much to help; if anything, by adding to the atmosphere of cynicism, it becomes part of the problem. After all, if people believe that everything is crap and nothing can be done, nothing will be done. That 15 Minutes is junky conservative propaganda makes it no better or worse than junky liberal propaganda like The Contender; both preach to the converted with an airhorn. Here, for instance, we learn that honest, law-abiding citizens can’t escape the mistakes of their past, while criminals can use the misfortunes of their past to get off scot free. They used to make ’em like this in the ’80s, with Sylvester Stallone.

De Niro, he of the erratic taste (his Tribeca company co-produced), is Eddie Flemming, a star homicide cop — and I do mean star, the kind of cop who gets recognized on the streets of New York (“Heyyy, Eddie!”) and appears on the cover of People. Eddie crosses paths with arson investigator Jordy Warsaw (Edward Burns) when both are sniffing around a fire scene that turns out to be homicide. It seems two thugs of Russian/Czech extraction (Russians! Evil Empire! Man, this is the ’80s again!) have murdered a former partner and his wife; now they’re trying to silence a witness to the crime. One of them also has a digital camera and wants to be Frank Capra (a “satirical” touch that can mean whatever you want it to mean). Their notion is to tape themselves committing murder, turn themselves in, plead insanity, and go free; after all, they’ve seen the sinners kneel and beg forgiveness on Roseanne’s talk show, and concluded that “nobody is responsible for what they do.”

Edward Burns, a gifted writer-director (The Brothers McMullen, She’s the One) gradually earning a name as an actor (Saving Private Ryan), is probably the best reason to see the movie. An honest and natural actor, Burns gives a weary Gen-X spin to the dog-eared scenes he’s in (he becomes, I think, the 34,492nd movie cop to plunk his badge on the captain’s desk in disgust upon being suspended). You’d think his job would be harder given that he’s up there with De Niro, but De Niro isn’t really up there. As if knowing how cardboard the movie is, he barely commits himself, except for a ridiculous scene in which he’s tied to a chair and still manages to rough up his captors — Charlie’s Angels did a similar set-piece slightly more plausibly.

15 Minutes is by no means a serious social satire. Its maker, John Herzfeld, is known mainly for his previous feature 2 Days in the Valley, which in turn is known mainly for a spandex catfight between Teri Hatcher and Charlize Theron (who has a useless cameo here as an escort-service manager). That film was a Tarantino-esque spree about three years too late; 15 Minutes is a media-evil movie about six years too late. Both stay stubbornly on the surface and play like inept attempts to realize some dimwitted Hollywood formula. By the end, when we get a stand-off between the enraged, gun-toting Edward Burns and one of the thugs holding a woman hostage, I almost laughed out loud, not out of contempt but out of relief — the movie had kept threatening to go from bad to worse, and, finally, here it was. If Herzfeld is right and people should be held responsible for what they do, then he should be held personally responsible for wasting one hour and fifty-nine minutes of millions of peoples’ lives. The least he can do is go on Roseanne’s show, kneel, and beg forgiveness.

Explore posts in the same categories: one of the year's worst, satire, thriller

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