March 15, 2001

15 Minutes Too Many

Print More

The first thing that comes to mind after viewing 15 Minutes is that it’s the cinematic equivalent of a fast food hamburger: a thin, unappetizing slab of meat that’s been smothered in gobs of fat in an effort to hide the lack of substance. And also like a fast food hamburger, it may be tasty at times, but loading up on all that useless fat leads to the cinematic equivalent of diarrhea.

Two small-time Eastern European criminals come to America to collect on a debt from an ex-partner and end up killing him. One of them, obsessed with American movies, tapes the murder and forms the idea that they can become rich and famous by selling the footage to a tabloid news show. Thus begins a spree of mayhem and violence, all captured on film (and unfortunately subjecting the audience to the nausea-inducing camcorder footage technique made popular by The Blair Witch Project). Enter media darling Eddie Flemming (Robert DeNiro), a tough-talking NYPD detective, and fire marshal Jordy Warsaw (Edward Burns). The two begin a cat and mouse game with the killers while wrestling with the pros and cons of omnipresent news cameras and media coverage.

Discovering the message of this movie — the public has developed an unhealthy appetite for watching human misery in the media — doesn’t take a degree in English or cinema or even a modicum of intelligence. Director John Herzfeld conveys that message with all the subtlety of someone hitting you over the head with a baseball bat. You’d think Herzfeld discovered this theme himself from the way the characters are constantly screaming about the evils of shock TV. This theme has been explored — and explored far better — in other movies like Natural Born Killers. The tragedy is that Herzfeld doesn’t seem to follow his own message as he relies heavily on senseless violence and copious action scenes to create suspense or emotional response. And given that these action scenes are the highlight of this film, you know Herzfeld’s in trouble.

But hypocrisy is only the beginning; Herzfeld’s directorial style seems to be one of grabbing every storytelling clich