Worse than the impressive cast being thrown away, or the wasted expense of shooting on location in New York, or the plot that blows apart under the pressure of increasing implausibility, what's really annoying about 15 Minutes is how untimely it is. On every level, from the mismatched central pairing (Robert De Niro is a cop, Ed Burns an arson investigator) to the serial-killing duo to the sledgehammered-home message that THE MEDIA IS BAD, 15 Minutes is months, years, even decades behind the times. Should you really feel the need to see it, just don't be surprised if you think you've seen it before. You have, just not all in the same movie.
Look at Geraldo Rivera-alike Robert Hawkins (Kelsey Grammer), a journo with a tabloid TV programme. Didn't Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers pretty much cover TV's treatment of serial killers? Similarly, harsh camcorder usage was covered in Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer and Menace II Society, while intrusive asshole journalists getting deservedly smacked down appeared in Die Hard, Scream and Robocop. Take out these 'homages' and, ironically, you're left with about 15 minutes of new stuff in which to find something worthwhile.
Certainly the fire investigation opening is handled well. But everything swiftly goes off the rails as the plot switches uneasily between being cop drama, chase thriller and satire on the media. In moments of tragic desperation, it even flirts with the idea of being a black comedy. Bad, bad, bad idea.
As New York's highest profile cop, De Niro's Eddie Flemming at least has a fleshed-out character with a history, romance and friends (although seeing De Niro scratching through charred buildings prompts Backdraft flashbacks). The bad guys are okay, too. With their accents and extreme looks (one's fascinatingly grubby while the other's a man mountain with turquoise eyes), Emil and Oleg do the bug-eyed intensity thing that's expected of them. But it's Ed Burns who's in trouble - an actor without a character or memorable dialogue who's forced to carry whole scenes by simply running around and shouting.
As a pitch, a couple of camcorder-wielding Slavic nutjobs actively seeking an outlet for the videotaped evidence against them would seem to be pretty strong. But with a nonsense, crumbling story having to be constantly reinforced by heavy-handed exposition and patched up with clichés that should have been laid to rest in the '70s, 15 Minutes quickly turns from an average cop film into a celluloid disaster area.
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A potboiler with intellectual pretensions, 15 Minutes switches from being a fairly enjoyable, workmanlike thriller to an overblown and messy load of instantly forgettable drivel - right at the exact moment it thinks it's being clever and dangerously subversive.