A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this dark thriller isn't meant for kids. It focuses on a cat-and-mouse game between a serial killer and the doctor responsible for sending him to death row: The contest is irrational on both sides, leading to aggression and murder. Violent imagery includes women being tortured: The killer likes to leave them hanging upside down in their underwear, blood dripping from deep cuts. Weapons include guns and scalpels. Female characters show lots of skin; at one point, a naked woman appears in in the hero's apartment (nothing explicit is shown). Language includes "f--k" and other profanity. Characters drink, get drunk, and talk about drinking.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Nine years after his testimony led to the conviction of serial killer Jon Forster (Neal McDonough), forensic psychiatrist Jack Gramm (Al Pacino) learns that a copycat murder has been committed -- most likely to cast doubt on the conviction and set up a stay of execution. As Forster gives TV interviews from death row, Gramm gets a phone call informing him that he has 88 minutes to live. His investigation (which moves strangely slowly, given the ticking-clock set up) leads to many suspects, including students at the university where he teaches, his teaching assistant Kim (Alicia Witt), ethereal colleague Carol (Deborah Kara Unger), and a young man on a motorcycle. The murder scenes are grisly (women hang upside down by one leg, cut with a scalpel so they slowly bleed to death), and Gramm isn't exactly helped along by friend/FBI agent Frank Parks (William Forsythe), especially when Gramm is implicated in the latest murder.
Is it any good?
Parts of the plot don't make much sense. Given how hectic his supposed last hour-plus on earth becomes, it's a good thing that Gramm has an able assistant, Shelly (Amy Brenneman), who keeps track of phone calls, gathers information, and sets up multiple media connections for him. Otherwise he wouldn't survive for 10 minutes, let alone 88. Though he insists he's grateful, Gramm remains annoyingly self-centered and sloppy in his own thinking -- usually his process is translated into clunky, sepia-tinted flashbacks so viewers can follow his process of putting together clues (most of which audiences will already have figured out). He badgers his students, repeatedly puts Kim in danger, and still finds time to help a little old lady -- apparently a sign of his compassion, but it's so incongruous that it seems silly.
But you can see how he might be confused, since Jon Avnet's movie piles on possible suspects while also granting Gramm a clichéd doozy of a motivating trauma: His little sister was brutally hacked to death when she was 12 and he was supposed to be looking after her. To underline his pain (or exacerbate viewers'), the film shows repeated close-ups from crime scenes -- bloody bodies, frightened faces, etc. The camera also tends to careen about, as if the jumpy footage will help convey the threat to Gramm (he's almost hit by a fire truck, he runs across campus and up staircases repeatedly, and he even yells like a crazy man on occasion, so that you'll remember he is, after all, Al Pacino). Still, his focus is Forster, who's up for the contest. They battle it out during a TV interview; Gramm determines to "Get inside his head, make him crack!" but only ends up spewing his own bad-TV version of a crack-up. Sadly, neither man comprehends the lunacy of the plot, leaving that awful knowledge for their audience.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what this movie has in common with other stalker/serial killer movies. What "standards" of the genre does it stick to? What twists does it introduce? Are they believable? Why is Hollywood so fascinated with serial killers? Is there a message in these murderers' madness?