The Warholian quip that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes is no longer taken as glib irony. Fame, once connected to achieving something, has become a goal in itself. Just look at the seemingly endless parade of people willing to debase themselves on talk shows and reality programs just to be on television (that great umbilical cable to the American psyche).
By calling his bleak satire-cum-thriller 15 Minutes, writer-director John Herzfeld (2 Days in the Valley) taps directly into that mindset, and this former writer of issue-related TV biopics such as The Preppie Murder and Don King: Only in America takes a big swipe at an industry — and mentality — he knows all too well. Then why isn’t this a better movie?
In part because Herzfeld falls into the trap set for filmmakers with a specific sociopolitical agenda: He tries to do too much. Not only does he introduce two Eastern European psycho killers (Karel Roden and Oleg Taktarov) whose funhouse image of America views victimization as a spectator sport, but he also brings in a TV crime reporter (Kelsey Grammer) anxious to show Giulianied New Yorkers that their streets aren’t getting safer after all.
Then he tops it all off with telegenic homicide detective Eddie Flemming (Robert De Niro), an old-school cop who utilizes his fame to solve big cases. While Flemming romances a reporter covering him (Melina Kanakaredes) — a conflict of interest which could be a movie in itself — he also ends up paired off with a hot-shot arson investigator (Edward Burns) to track the Iron Curtain scourges.
This plot glut is overseen by a director who greets subtlety with a sledgehammer and tries to fashion a smart, contemporary tale from tired movie clichés, which makes 15 Minutes feel irrelevant and dated despite its flashy, bombastic style. By opting to shoot cannons at cardboard villains, Herzfeld ends up letting everyone off the hook too easily, and never really explores culpability within a medium that feeds real-life events into a thought processor and ends up producing predigested fodder for the information age.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.