*½/**** Image A Sound A Extras A-
starring Robert De Niro, Edward Burns, Kelsey Grammer, Avery Brooks
written and directed by John Herzfeld
by Walter Chaw There's a thing that happens about an hour into John Herzfeld's 15 Minutes that is as bald and shameless a foreshadowing device as any in the tired pantheon of movie-groaners. It's as bad as telling someone that you'll marry them just as soon as you get back from this trip to Africa; as bad as showing the guys a picture of your corn-fed sweetie right before you charge that machine gun embankment. It is a moment of stunning conventionality in the middle of a film that is otherwise engaging and, for a moment or two, even shocking and provocative. 15 Minutes is defined by this scene in a great many ways: It's a Hollywood film struggling with a controversial topic that finds a comfort zone in a script that tries to soften some images by obfuscation and others by a timidity that ultimately undermines its subject. The last time a big-budget picture tried to tackle a media culture involved in exploitation of the darkest crannies of the human heart was Joel Schumacher's reprehensible and simpering 8MM. Sharing that film's ignominious demise at the box office, it can be no real surprise that 15 Minutes is almost as repugnantly apple-polishing an experience.
Beginning like L.A. Confidential and ending a little like Blow Out, and touching base with the ham-fisted media excoriation of Mad City, Natural Born Killers, and Dog Day Afternoon along the way, 15 Minutes concerns veteran homicide detective Eddie Fleming (Robert De Niro) paired in a buddy scenario with wooden arson inspector Jordy Warsaw (wooden Edward Burns) on the trail of two crazed euro-trash goons blazing a murderous swath of violence through New York's mean streets. If you're already keeping score with the number of in-references being made to De Niro's other film roles (the arson investigator of Backdraft, the New York mean street setting), consider also a scene where he ad-libs into a mirror and another where he's taken prisoner much like his own victimization of Jerry Lewis as the disturbed Rupert Pupkin. It's no secret that De Niro has almost exclusively alternated his recent roles between intentional parodies of his old work and unintentional parodies of his old work. The explanation as to why is still pending.
The catch in what is an extremely conventional plot is that the killers are armed with a video camera, their master plan involving selling their taped exploits to the tabloids for an outrageous sum, hiring a mob lawyer, faking insanity, and getting the fifteen minutes of fame promised them by Andy Warhol. Consequently, the picture looks a great deal like the prison-break sequences of Natural Born Killers, alternating from Jean-Yves Escoffier's razor-sharp cinematography to the shaky hand-held cinema vérité chic popularized by reality television and "NYPD Blue".
Queasy if well-paced, 15 Minutes vacillates between taking pot shots at such easy targets as daytime infotainment and explosions, naked hookers, shoot-outs, gratuitous violence, and bombastic car chases. It comfortably embodies what it seeks to condemn and it does so without any of the self-knowledge of the notoriously unsubtle Oliver Stone, making 15 Minutes definitively part of the problem. Intended satire without actual satire is exploitation, made all the worse for the dimwitted moralizing soliloquies of its final act, in which every series of reaction close-ups inevitably includes an ironic one of a fat cameraman hustling over a guardrail or through a crowd. It's a self-important and naked emperor commenting on the shoddiness of another's clothes, made all the more pathetic by its seedy pandering to every single plot convenience of the cop-thriller genre. 15 Minutes condemns Jerry Springer while endorsing police brutality, assault and battery, and collusion of witnesses--it is certain of its need to instruct, but unclear as to its lesson plan and that, in the end, relegates the film to the cinematic purgatory of ironic faux pas and unjustified self-satisfaction. The biggest surprise of 15 Minutes is that Denzel Washington doesn't have a cameo in which to deliver his standard monologue about man's inhumanity to his brother man (that task is given to David Alan Grier in this film).
De Niro sleepwalks through another greatest hits compendium of his past glories, Burns has never been good in a film that his character survives, and Charlize Theron appears for the second time this year as a hooker of some kind (see: Sweet November). Strangely enough, Theron stays clad in her hooker roles yet conspicuously nude in most of her other roles. Avery Brooks gets the thankless task of being the black cop in a blockbuster cop drama (remembering that Danny Glover's main function in the Lethal Weapon films was to provide humiliating comic relief), and Melina Kanakaredes gets the equally thankless task of being its love interest (read: "certain imperilled hostage").
15 Minutes is a hypocrite of the worst kind, and one that points to the need for more films like John McNaughton's unrelentingly appalling Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (which also uses the homemade footage of murder as a story device) and Danny Lee and Herman Yau's similarly malignant The Untold Story. The last thing a movie condemning the glossy glorification of violence can be is a truly glossy glorification of violence; if you believe that 15 Minutes is an effective statement about the perniciousness of televised mayhem, watch the casually justified murder and lawlessness of its climax and think again.
by Bill Chambers It is a compliment to New Line Home Video, and not an insult to 15 Minutes, that Walter and I split the reviewing chores on this DVD: an Infinifilm title, the disc is (enjoyably) time-consuming. Starting with a 2.35:1, 16x9-enhanced (as with everything else on the disc) transfer that's supple, even during the digital video inserts (which were genuinely shot by the actor wielding the camcorder on screen, Oleg Taktarov), and continuing with a throbbing Dolby Digital 5.1 soundmix, New Line has yet again triumphed in the tech department. But that's merely the call of duty; the studio has gone above and beyond it, true to their Infinifilm motto.
The most lengthy and/or traditional supplements can be accessed through various Infinifilm-labelled sub-menus on the DVD. But the true Infinifilm Experience can only be had by watching the film with the function turned on; you can see outtakes from the included documentaries that way, as well as such voyeuristic goodies as dress rehearsals (in which De Niro reacts with visible disdain to the improvised line, "Anybody ever tell you you look like Robert De Niro, lieutenant?"). For quick access to Infinifilm options, there is a separate Infinifilm scene selection menu.
The extra features that are easiest to find begin at the featurette "15 Minutes of True Tabloid Stories" (running time: exactly fifteen minutes), a compilation of interviews from the trenches with folks like Jerry Springer. Maury Povich lends credence to 15 Minutes when he says he would put an execution on the air, not for ratings but "as a matter of social conscience." The other documentary is the "Politically Incorrect"-style (though far less combustible) "Does Crime Pay?" (21 mins.), a panel discussion with filmmaker Ted Haimes, attorneys Gloria Allred and Stan Goldman, true crime journalist Aphrodite Jones (whose "All She Wanted" was, sorta, the basis for Boys Don't Cry), and exiled L.A. police detective Mark Fuhrman. Their talk gets interesting upon turning to the insanity defense that is so key to 15 Minutes, but the gears of the conversation keep switching too abruptly--something less abridged in general might've worked better.
Six deleted scenes, with, like the film itself, optional commentary from director Herzfeld (who too often falls into the trap of narrating 15 Minutes proper), show that a lot of expensive stuff was cut--in one case, onanistic expensive stuff: a chase that ended in a movie theatre screening Herzfeld's own 2 Days in the Valley. Aside from occasionally being just plain wrong (Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life was released in 1946, not 1931!), the DVD's "fact track" has trouble sustaining itself. (Though the pre-emptive hangover cure of a B6 vitamin was a helpful tip.) Full versions of two of Oleg's disturbing home videos, the original theatrical trailer, God Lives Underwater's video for their "Fame", and DVD-ROM material (script-to-screen, weblinks, online Infinifilm bonuses) round out this sizzlin' package. Originally published: August 27, 2001.