15 Minutes is a messy, schizophrenic film squandering the talents of Robert De Niro and causing me to wonder if director John Herzfeld and actor Edward Burns have any talent whatsoever.
The film labors with the idea that the American media, mainly tabloid news programs, is largely to blame for violence in society, a point that’s been getting shoved down our throats by that very same media for the past umpteen years. Owing just a little too much to Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, Herzfeld tries to create the same moderately successful blend of violence and satire that Stone achieved, and he misses the mark by a distance greater than Reno to Pluto.
The picture tries to display how violent America looks to overseas observers through its two villains, a couple of Czech immigrants, played by Karl Roden as Emil, the psycho leader, and Oleg Taktorov as, oddly enough, Oleg, his simple-minded partner in crime. The two film their murderous crime spree with the intention of selling the results as proof that they are insane. When the cursed American judicial system finds them mentally incompetent to stand trial, they intend to take their millions and live the good life.
Wouldn’t your average judge find criminals filming their crimes to be proof enough that they were mentally competent? This movie doesn’t seem to think so.
But wait a minute: 15 Minutes is a satire, so we are supposed to accept the goings on here as exaggerated truths. We’re supposed to be laughing in the scenes before and after the grisly, gratuitous snuff films taped by the movie’s central villains.
Nothing in this film is supposed to be accepted as reality, just a commentary on reality, therefore director Herzfeld can get as outrageous as he wants to be and pass this bottom feeder off as witty social commentary.
Herzfeld isn’t a decent enough director to pull this off. It doesn’t help that the role created for Edward Burns is ridiculous—an arson inspector trying to avoid the media, getting into love affairs with criminals in his custody and basically acting like a dejected Boy Scout for most of his screen time. Burns was excellent in Saving Private Ryan, but his work in just about every other film he’s been involved in has been bland, this being his worst performance to date.
It’s a sad day when the best thing about your movie is Kelsey Grammer, decent here as a scumbag television reporter. Roden is fairly capable as the villain, but he’s done in by the conventions of his dopey character. Taktorov is the film’s comic relief, and I’m sure most of you won’t be laughing at any of his hijinks.
To his credit, De Niro does some good work in the thankless role of Eddie, a shrewd New York City detective who likes to use the media as a method to get some celebrity. De Niro is De Niro, a good thing, but this swill doesn’t deserve his presence. It’s also the second film in a year, after The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, that has him spoofing Taxi Driver‘s mirror scene. Knock it off, already!
The tone of this movie is all screwy, attempting to be funny and clever at one moment and realistically grisly in others. Again, Herzfeld isn’t mature enough to pull this off. And what’s with the music on the soundtrack? Get a load of those plucky, obtrusive violin strings during the bloody mayhem. This will probably stand as my pick for worst soundtrack of 2001.
Annoying and cloying, 15 Minutes is so busy winking at the audience in a shameless attempt to be accepted as clever, its lousy eyeball falls out well within its first quarter hour.