Fifteen Minutes
review by Elias Savada, 16 March 2001

Following so soon after the gratuitously violent 3000 Miles to Graceland is this brutal, comic book silly, and overblown, extended New-York minute (actually 120 of them) from John Herzfeld. Both films hammer away with heavyweight talent, but end up delivering far-fetched stories and self-inflicted knock-out punches. Warning: Don't get bludgeoned or burned. To ensure your safety and well being, please avoid these films. If you must, they will be available soon enough in video outlets near you. Fight it out there.

Herzfeld, more a writer than a director (and more of that on the television side, with the award-winning Don King: Only in America), has been an underwhelming force on the cinematic landscape. Five years ago was his sophomore feature Two Days in the Valley, a sardonic study of L.A.'s criminal underbelly, and his debut was way, way back with 1983's forgettable Two of a Kind, a boring romantic fantasy featuring Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta, a turkey aptly labeled "BOMB" by fellow critic Leonard Maltin in his TV compendium. Herzfeld again uses the context of an unsavory duet on a mission in Fifteen Minutes, which explores the American dreams of two huddled Eastern Eurotrash masses yearning to breathe their Andy Warhol-allotted moments in an over-hyped media spotlight.

Two wild and crazy ex-cons, depraved blue-eyed Russian Emil Slovak (Karel Roden) and his dim-witted Czech buddy Oleg Razgul (Oleg Taktarov), crave celebrity and fame at the expense of all things sociologically responsible, embarking on a crime spree that spins deadly cartwheels around televised media outlets and cross-platform law authorities. The foreigners land in the Big Apple in a blaze of glory, incinerating some old friends from back home and arousing the barbequriosity of heavy-drinking super celebrity homicide cop Eddie Flemming (Robert De Niro), low-key, lonelyhearts fire department arson investigator Jordy Warsaw (Edward Burns), and those mass communicators who whore themselves to the ratings gods. The former is not averse to a splash of Binaca and a drop of Visine before sleeping with the enemy (the press in general, Melina Kanakaredes in particular), although he's often matching his own style of headline-grabbing gamesmanship with that of the egomaniacal Robert Hawkins (Kelsey Grammer), a "Top Story" tabloid newscaster suffering from the high-pressure exhortations of his castration-inducing boss (Kim Cattrall) but assuaged by having his face plastered on billboards and buses all over town. Everyone wants their face on the nighttime news, and bad boy Oleg fashions himself the next Frank Capra courtesy of a heisted digital video camera. Thereupon begins his and Emil's twisted quest for stardom. The maker of It's a Wonderful Life is all too busy rolling over in his grave from the attention he's getting here. Tarantino, perhaps, would be a more appropriate role model.

Oleg's DV technique becomes an integral part of the movie's amateur look, a vision that plays out like a kid with a new toy. Amidst all the murder and mayhem, the film gains an annoying self-referential, narcissistic documentary cuteness that showcases the script's and characters' weaknesses. The evil pair are carefree brutes, with Emil bearing a physical and mental resemblance to Robert Carlyle's Victor "Renard" Zokas in The World Is Not Enough. De Niro has the meat role on the super-size TV dinner plate, with puppy face Burns the potatoes, half-mashed after an introductory comic relief segment in which he handcuffs a mugger (David Alan Grier) to a tree in Central Park and forgets about him for most of the movie. De Niro also gets some Mean Streets laughs bouncing marital vows off a mirror. Avery Brooks (Captain Sisko in Star Trek Deep Space Nine and Spenser: For Hire's rock solid Hawk) cuts his Leon Jackson here from the same fabric, as Flemming's devoted right hand man. I shouldn't castigate Kelsey Grammer that much; his character so thin and saturated with flaws that beg you to hate him. Newcomer Vera Farmiga as Daphne Handlova, gives a believable run as a orange-haired witness to murder and wannabe squeeze for first-generation American Jordy. Charlize Theron, whose first role was in Two Days in the Valley, returns in a small cameo running an escort service attired in a Lulu wig ripped from Louise Brooks.

Fifteen Minutes pretty much recycles the media paranoia and fear found in Mad City with passing stabs at Snuff and Payback. The film spits bitterly at the feet of Lady Liberty and, if she could, the towering beacon of freedom and opportunity would join the rest of America with a colossal thumbs down as she watches the film expire on her doorstep. It sinks quickly off the waters of lower Manhattan. Don't Czech it out.

Written and
Directed by:

John Herzfeld

Starring:
Robert De Niro
Edward Burns
Kelsey Grammer
Avery Brooks
Melina Kanakaredes
Karel Roden
Oleg Taktarov
Vera Farmiga
John DiResta
Charlize Theron
Kim Cattrall
David Alan Grier

Rated:
R - Restricted
Under 17 requires
accompanying
parent or adult
guardian

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