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Exploiting Exploitation 

15 Minutes

15 Minutes (R)
New Line Cinema

15 Minutes is a cops and killers action movie naively intent on telling you things you already know about the societal pitfalls of tabloid media. As the film's title implies, the killers in this story want their slice of fame and fortune in return for the bloody murders they've committed.

Emil and Oleg are a pair of Eastern European criminal clods feeding off information from daytime television exploitation talk shows to get away with a laundry list of murder and arson. Eddie Flemming (Robert DeNiro) is a high-profile New York City Homicide detective joined by arson investigator Jordy Warsaw (Ed Burns) to capture the idiotically diabolical perps. Every character is a cartoon cutout -- see Jordy's last name (Warsaw because he's Polish) or Emil's (Slovak because he's from Eastern Europe) and you get an idea of how writer/director John Herzfeld mapped out his script.

In the story Emil plans to plead insanity to obtain a not guilty verdict once he's caught. He steals verbatim the televised reasoning of a killer who managed to outwit the American judicial system and is now making money hand-over-fist with book rights and a movie deal. Due to an abusive father who destroyed his self-esteem, the television murderer explains how he was "just as much a victim as the people he killed." Emil is immediately convinced that he can pre-sell his video-documented crime story to a hot-action editorial television show for big cash and fame.

As a cop potboiler, 15 Minutes puts to bed any question of whether or not snuff films actually exist. Surely there are plenty of real-life criminals just as asinine as the Laurel and Hardy team portrayed in the story, who have filmed their dastardly deeds in front of handy-dandy video cams. Those tapes become damning evidence that insure many such cases never even cost taxpayers dollars in open and shut trials. It's to the public good that police detectives see to it these grotesque tapes never get released, or even screened, by anyone other than sensitive individuals working on these actions.

When Robert Hawkins (Kelsey Grammer), a Hard Copy kind of television tabloid news anchorman, buys video evidence of one of Emil's killings for a million dollars in cash and airs it to a stunned national TV audience, 15 Minutes goes in the trash it pretends to be mocking. By this time there's already been a gratuitously bloody chase scene, a touch of romantic irony, some ridiculously staged male bonding between Eddie and Jordy, and a big fat plot surprise. It's as if the filmmakers want to be provocateurs, but first they had to get through a lot of Hollywood stuff before they could settle down and take their one big shock shot at exactly where the line of ethical boundary lies for the news media.

I personally haven't watched TV in over 20 years because I instinctively knew that it was never going to get any better than The Rockford Files. I loved The Rockford Files and didn't want to sully my resonating teenage memory with crappy sit-coms that danced around toilet humor like prostitutes on a sacred mission. Sure 15 Minutes has one or two genuinely good scenes with Robert De Niro hitting certain grace notes of acting quintessence, but there's one big thing missing from the movie -- resonance.

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