Fifteen Minutes

School shootings. Serial killers. Terrorists. Professional wrestling. Thanks a lot Andy Warhol. The dead soup painting guy once claimed that in his future everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes.

fifteen minutesWelcome to Warhol’s future, a time when any disgruntled employee or student can roam the halls, killing as many people as possible in order to get their fifteen minutes of fame.

It’s a sad state of affairs. Even sadder is how writer-director John Herzfeld approaches the subject in his new film “Fifteen Minutes.” Herzfeld’s script is a good idea gone bad. Instead of being a vicious diatribe on America’s fascination with violence, “Fifteen Minutes” is trite and cliched.

It also arrives a little too late in the game to matter. Other, much better films have already tackled the subject, most notably David Fincher’s “Se7en.” There’s always room for one more intelligent and thoughtful thriller, but “Fifteen Minutes” isn’t it.

Robert De Niro stars as celebrated New York police detective Eddie Flemming. Eddie is so popular that he’s currently on the cover of People Magazine. Everyone on the street knows Eddie, including the bad guys. He’s a celebrity, and he knows it.

In order to maintain his status, Eddie allows tabloid television reporter Robert Hawkins (Kelsey Grammar) to tag along on his dangerous assignments. They’re good for each other, and feed off each other’s fame.

When we first meet Eddie, he’s face down in a sink full of ice. His way of sobering up. It’s an important day for Eddie. He’s getting ready to propose to his girlfriend. Into this mix comes Emil (Karel Roden) and Oleg (Oleg Taktarov), two Russian and Czech nationals who claim to be tourists. They’re not. They’re here to collect their share of the loot from a heist that went south.

Fresh off the plane and on the streets of New York, the two immediately find trouble. Oleg steals a video camera from an electronics store window, which he plans to use to make the great American movie. Taking their cue from the talk and tabloid shows on the T.V., Emil and Oleg use the camera to record a vicious crime spree, which they plan to sell to the highest bidder.

What starts off as a quirky action-black comedy quickly becomes tiresome. I liked the idea, I hated the execution. Director Herzfeld, who cut his teeth directing television movies and series, fails to put any bite into “Fifteen Minutes.” It’s extremely common, filled with plodding pacing and ostentatious dialogue. Surprising since Herzfeld’s first film, “Two Days in the Valley,” was notable for its surprising plot twists and colorful, edgy characters. “Fifteen Minutes” is so obvious it’s instantly forgettable. Too bad for a film with obvious potential. What a waste of talent.

De Niro has played this sort of role so often he could phone it in. He basically does. The writer provides him with little opportunity to shine. Eddie isn’t really a character, but a type: the hard drinking police detective. De Niro hits his marks, but does little to shade in the transparent Eddie.

Ed Burns fares a little better as arson investigator Jordy Warsaw, whose personal interest in Eddie’s latest case creates artificial conflicts between him and just about everyone else, including his paint-by-numbers superior who never speaks below a shout. At least Burns looks interested, even when he’s forced to say and do some incredibly dumb things. The outrageous finale is a testament to his ability not to break character.

As the thrill killers, Karel Roden and Oleg Taktarov are better than their material. They seem to be the only ones having fun. They’re so over the top they’re actually funny. As tabloid reporter Robert Hawkins, Kelsey Grammer looks tired. Do I hear a sleepwalking defense?

Herzfeld’s script feels layered, but in reality it’s a mess. It’s all over the place. It wants to be a hip thriller, but looks and sounds like an exploitation film. Herzfeld has difficulty reconciling these extremes, creating a melting pot that never heats up.

Behind the camera, Herzfeld neglects his actors. He makes them look bad. A more talented director would recognize that the script wasn’t working and fix it. Herzfeld obviously couldn’t distance himself from the script to see that. Maybe he thought he was being clever. He was wrong.

“Fifteen Minutes” is extremely violent, surprising in this post-Columbine climate. If Herzfeld is glorifying violence to make a point, the point is lost. “Fifteen Minutes” is no better than the tabloid shows it attacks.


Killers seek claim to fame in Fifteen Minutes


Robert De Niro, Ed Burns, Kelsey Grammar, Karel Roden, Oleg Taktarov, Melina Kanakaredes, Avery Brooks, Vera Farmiga. Directed by John Herzfled. Rated R. 120 Minutes.


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