"In the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes." Andy Warhol
Written and directed by John Herzfeld ("2 Days in the Valley"), "15 Minutes" (IMDb listing) has the guise of educating the masses on the dangers of the media and the fragility of the judicial system in America. It also likes to blow things up and lovingly detail murders in extreme closeup so we can feast on all the lurid details. It' the type of schizophrenic film that can make for an ulcer-inducing 120 minutes. However "15 Minutes" soon finds its legs and takes off. It a vulgar and violent joyride through death, celebrity, and revenge. It's pulpy fun, just don't think too hard about its archaic message.
Fresh off the plane from Russia and the Czech republic, Emil (Karel Rodin) and Oleg (Oleg Taktarov) have come to New York City in search of money owed to them. When Oleg steals a camcorder to videotape their exploits, he unwittingly captures Emil murdering a former business partner and his wife. Beaming with pride over their murdering exploits, the two immigrants begin to sell their tapes to a seedy newscaster (Kelsey Grammer) who smells big ratings in airing the snuff films. On the case are arson investigator Jordy Warsaw (Edward Burns) and famed homicide detective Eddie Flemming (Robert DeNiro). They team up to track down the two killers as they leave bodies and big ratings in their wake.
Shot and set for release in 1999, "15 Minutes" does not have the novel social commentary that it was once meant to have. Since 1999, we've been deluged with "Survivor," the Columbine shootings, and even "Temptation Island." Our entertainment and information worlds are flush with newly minted celebrities every day, and this film's attempts to sermonize on the exploitative world of instant celebrity feels both antiquated and monotonous. The film tries to make a bigger point about the media, but it's confused about where this vicious tale should end up. By introducing the film as social commentary, then ending the film with a standoff that would make Clint Eastwood proud, "15 Minutes" is tough to take seriously. There are terrific points to be made about dangerous notoriety, but with "15 Minutes," most of the points have already been made in the media time and again.
Thankfully, "15 Minutes" is much more interested in the tried and true world of the action film. It's certainly far more comfortable with itself that way. This is entertainment after all, and director Herzfeld stages some wonderfully lush and taut action sequences. They do wonders to bring the film alive, as if all the preaching about celebrity was a heavy backpack that has been dropped to the floor, leaving the spirit of the film to roam free. Reminiscent of the raging "Die Hard with a Vengeance," "15 Minutes" uses its New York City locations extensively and tastefully. No Nora Ephron travelogue moments here.
As buddy cop films go, both Burns and DeNiro make a good celluloid team. DeNiro can and has done these roles in his sleep, but he makes the most of this thin role as a big-shot investigator. He's playful and enjoyable to watch as he and Burns bounce off each other in the way only two New York actors can. Sharing some tender scenes with co-star Melina Kanakaredes, DeNiro attempts to go a little further exploring his character than the final film suggests. He's a pro, and "15 Minutes" is better off with an underused Robert DeNiro than no DeNiro at all.
Normally landing himself the plum role of the hunk, I give Burns credit for looking so grimy in "15 Minutes." But as arson officer Jordy Warsaw, the "Brothers McMullen" creator doesn't get to do much except look tired and irritated. An appealing personality, Burns gets the shaft from Herzfeld' script, which liberally tosses in a subplot about Jordy' flirtation with a Czech witness (Vera Farmiga), yet never fleshes out what occurs between the two. Like DeNiro, I can only assume that Burns' character was at one point whole and carefully planned.
Burns and DeNiro look great scouring the city with guns drawn and brows furrowed, but the real stars of the film, Oleg Taktarov and Karel Rodin, are the scene stealers. As the two killers and wannabe filmmakers, both actors bring unexpected moments of humanity and wickedness to their characters. Leaps and bounds past the usual one-note killers you would normally see in this type of picture, Herzfeld gives ample screen time to get to know the killers. Taking time to let the audience invest in the murderer' mind, the climax and eventual comeuppance is all the more stimulating.
The commercials scream about the cultural relevance of the "15 Minutes" plot, but what they don't mention is that this is a tight actioner with plenty of thrills to fill the night. Its political agenda is tired and passé, but the film is slick and definitely worth a look.
Filmfodder Grade: B+