15 Minutes (March 10/01)
With 15 Minutes, writer/director Jim Herzfeld is obviously trying to create a satire of what is possible the easiest target - reality television. Somewhere along the way, though, Herzfeld forgot an important element in crafting not only a satire, but a movie - he forgot to make it entertaining.
Robert DeNiro and Ed Burns star as, respectively, a semi-famous NYC detective and an arson inspector. The two find themselves paired up after a pair of immigrants are murdered and burned to a crisp. Speaking of immigrants, it turns out that two fresh-off-the-boat fellas want to be famous and hey, since it's America, they decide to go on a killing spree and videotape their crimes.
There are many problems with 15 Minutes, but I'll start with the most glaring one. It's not interesting. Herzfeld has created an alternate New York City that is just unpleasant to look at, plain and simple. Rooms are dank and dirty, restaurants are dark and dreary, and burned-down apartments are just disgusting. This may sound like a silly criticism, but watching 15 Minutes, I always felt trapped inside the locations and I didn't want to be. Perhaps this was Herzfeld's intent; he wanted to create a world that's hyper-realistic and unpleasant to live in. Maybe he's saying that if we continue along this path, we'll be living in (essentially) Hell. Well, that's fine and dandy, but it got very distracting.
And speaking of unpleasant to look at, Herzfeld keeps shifting from film to the point-of-view of the camera the two killers use. Unlike Natural Born Killers, which constantly shifted from film to 8mm to various others, 15 Minutes just alternates between film and a Sony digicam. This is really annoying. And I'm not sure I understand the point of it, either. I suppose it makes the violent scenes less violent, since you really can't understand what the hell is going on.
But despite Herzfeld's best efforts, there are some things worth recommending about this movie. There is one fantastic foot chase down a busy NYC street that's genuinely exciting. And DeNiro and Burns make a great team, and both are great in their roles. Particularly Burns, who's not generally thought of as an action hero type of guy. But props must go to Kelsey Grammer, playing a sleazy tabloid-TV host. Known for Frasier Crane (he has been playing the character for over ten years), he completely sheds that image here, with a barrage of the F-word and motivations beyond repulsive. Also, David Allen Grier, in a rather pointless cameo, is amusing.
Perhaps if Herzfeld hadn't felt so passionately about this subject (I'm assuming he does, considering how he presents it), 15 Minutes might have been better. But as it is, it's heavy-handed and will likely insult your intelligence as it did mine (I mean, come on. Is it really necessary to hammer the message of THE MEDIA IS EVIL over and over and over again? We get it already!). Like Spike Lee's Clockers (violence is bad) and David O. Russell's Three Kings (Americans are bad), 15 Minutes is yet another pandering piece of work designed not only to entertain, but to educate.