15 MINUTES is a transitional Robert De Niro thriller bridging the Everybody Respects Robert De Niro era with the Robert De Niro Is a Guy Who Stars In DTV Movies With 50 Cent one. Here De Niro plays Detective Eddie Flemming, famous NYC supercop who steps on the toes of younger hot shot Fire Marshal Jordy Warsaw (Ed Burns in a practice run of his sidekick character in ALEX CROSS) when both report to the scene of a deadly apartment fire.
Eddie is famous for being on the tabloid show Top Story, where he lets the host, Robert Hawkins (Kelsey Grammer, Cheetos*), follow him on busts, so everybody treats him like a rock star and it pisses Warsaw off. But he really has been around the block and has alot of wisdom to share, so it’s a buddy movie where they butt heads but then he unexpectedly goes out on a limb for the kid and sort of mentors him and what not. All that type of stuff.
But also this is a satire about this crime celebrity culture, that’s what that title’s about. Back in the late ’80s, early 2000s we were very concerned about tabloid news shows and their morbid obsession with O.J. Simpson, the Menendez Brothers and etc., so here is a movie coming years after after MAN BITES DOG, SERIAL MOM, NATURAL BORN KILLERS, SCREAM, etc., and hitting at kind of an embarrassingly obvious target in my opinion. But it does get a little bit of novelty by framing it as the American dream, showing a crime spree committed by two European immigrants (introducing Karel Roden and Oleg Taktarov) who have come to America seeking opportunity. Well, actually to collect their share of the money from a bank robbery, which it turns out their buddy already spent while they were in prison. Whoops. Sorry fellas.
By the way I wonder if they ever met Yuri Boyka in prison?
Oleg (Taktarov) is Russian, he loves Frank Capra, he steals a camcorder from a window display next to a Mickey Mouse phone and other chintzy Americana. For the rest of the movie he has a boyish enthusiasm for taping everything. Emil (Roden) is Czech, he’s learned from TV about the insanity plea and double jeopardy and plans to go on a killing spree, sell the movie rights and then use the money from the movie deal to hire a fancy pants rich celebrity lawyer to argue that he is crazy and therefore innocent. It’s kinda funny as a moronic idea a delusional person would have, but the movie treats it as a genius master plan only barely foiled by a minor error.
You guys, I think I have more faith in the system than this movie does! One red white a and blue suit, please.
I knew this was gonna be a De Niro, Burns and Grammer picture, but I was surprised how many other familiar faces were in the cast. Charlize Theron shows up out of the blue in one scene. Kim Cattrall is in there for a minute. Vera Farmiga turns out to be the female lead, a witness who Warsaw protects and is tempted by. They also save a little boy from a fire, and it’s Anton Yelchin. But the biggest surprise to me was my man Oleg “The Russian Bear” Taktarov, a legend from the early days of UFC and a fascination for me ever since I saw him as a thug in an okay DTV movie called ROCKAWAY and liked that his name was Oleg. I had no idea that he was not only in this movie, but one of the leads. Roden (Rasputin in HELLBOY, also in BLADE II) and him are the villains who the good guys are trying to catch for the whole movie.
This is the biggest role I’ve ever seen Taktarov in, and he’s actually the best thing in this movie. He doesn’t get to fight or anything, but he gives a really good performance as a dumb guy who decides he’s destined to be a director and comes along with his psychotic friend more to document it than to participate. I don’t know what the fuck his problem is, and most of the movie isn’t played like it’s supposed to be funny (except for a few times when composer J. Peter Robinson makes the huge mistake of playing wacky music). But whatever obvious points it’s trying to ham-handedly make about crime celebrities in America it’s Oleg that makes them sometimes work.
His greatest moment: sitting in a crowded Planet Hollywood as his “film” (a video of the torture and death of a cop) is broadcast on the screen. He’s excited, proud and nervous, like a director at his first premiere. He sheepishly turns around to gauge people’s reactions.
Keep in mind, the screen is showing a famous guy tied to a chair and getting murdered. But he seems to really think that people might appreciate what a good job he did taping it. If nothing else, this is a movie that has a unique bad guy.
Man, he’s so good in this scene! Now that I know this performance exists in a major motion picture I’m surprised he hasn’t gotten more substantial roles out of it. I guess he mostly does Russian movies. He was a pretty big part in PREDATORS I guess.
This is probly just me, but I kept thinking he looks like a cross between Channing Tatum and Charles Bronson. Anybody else see that?
After the recent avalanche of shitty found footage movies I forgot about this era when it was a trendy stylistic device to keep cutting to camcorder footage in the middle of a regular movie. Also the big thing back then was to show timecode, “REC” and stuff on the screen, like you’re looking through the viewfinder. They even did that on the movie poster for this one. I think this gimmick started to be a short cut and budget softener in TV movies, but here’s one where it just seems like the director is genuinely fascinated with zooming in on faces and blowing their blobby pixels up to movie screen size. I don’t know, I can’t explain it, but it was kinda new at the time.
They flirt with found footage techniques by showing a good portion of their snuff video, but they never switch over to the camcorder for a full scene or anything. I doubt it occurred to them as a possibility. Back then only shitty indies that nobody wanted to see were straight up copying THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. It was different then. I mean I can’t claim originality was that much more important back then, but directors had their pride. Even if they loved BLAIR WITCH they wanted to keep making actual movies, they weren’t gonna switch to fake home videos.
And actual movies have pyrotechnics. If you got Ed Burns as the co-lead and he’s playing an arson investigator you better have more than one arson in there, right? So Emil and Oleg, in addition to being bank robbers and budding filmatists, are talented firebugs. There’s a big set piece that’s kind of a humorously sadistic series of tricks and mistakes. Warsaw goes back to Farmiga’s apartment with her and the ceiling has been sabotaged to ignite when he turns the light on. There’s a fire extinguisher conveniently nearby so he goes for it too quick to hear her yelling that it’s not hers. It was left there as a trick, he sprays gasoline on the flames and catches his arm on fire. They take shelter in the bathroom, where she notices a huge jug of gas was left in the bath tub and she’s worried the flames are gonna get in there and blow it up so she starts dumping it down the bath tub drain… which is clogged. Warsaw grabs it to pour down the sink, which is also clogged. So now they have a tub and a sink filled with gasoline as flames are all around them… Good imagination, arsonists.
Not all of the movie is as clever as that scene. To me it seems a little deluded. It’s easier to like a dumb movie that doesn’t seem to think it’s smart. When it tries to have a message, but it’s such an obvious message, is that worse than not trying? I’m honestly not sure. But I gotta give it credit for an interesting structure. At first it’s a story about this famous hero cop who is washed up, notoriously alcoholic, and working with this sleazy TV prick. Then it brings in the arson detective and it becomes the buddy/mentoring movie. And there’s this subplot about Eddie’s relationship with his reporter girlfriend (Melina Kanakaredes, THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT, SNITCH) and only when he was planning to propose to her and putting it in writing did I realize that (SPOILER) oh shit. So in the second half of the movie he’s dead and the story is left to Warsaw to catch his murderers, and his murderers to make a deal with Hawkins to put their video on his TV show. On the surface it seems like a normal commercial movie about cops, but it doesn’t follow the template.
An unusual tweak to formula: in the scene that introduces Warsaw, David Alan Grier attempts to mug him in Central Park. Warsaw cuffs him but doesn’t have time to bring him in, because he’s heading to the scene of the fire, so he decides to handcuff him to a tree. Of course this is played as a joke, and after the more serious stuff he says “Oh shit!”, remembers to go back for the mugger and finds him stripped to his underwear (by a “bag lady”, he says) and swearing about his civil rights. Ha ha ha.
But the thing is, this LETHAL WEAPON type crazy policing actually has consequences. At the end of the movie everybody finds out that he did that and he’s suspended pending an investigation. That’s kinda cool. The problem is the chief explicitly states that he has to suspend him only because what he did makes the department look bad, and that he doesn’t like doing it. So the stupid implication is that it actually is fine that a fireman handcuffed a guy to a tree all day, and the stupid media is ruining everything, but what are you gonna do.
trivia: writer/director John Herzfeld played Train Mugger #2 in DEATH WISH. I mean at least Warsaw didn’t shoot the mugger, but still. Fire marshals need to follow procedure too.
This was worth watching, and the only reason I did was because I needed a Kelsey Grammer action movie to review in this EXPENDABLES 3 series, and this is as close as I could get. I wonder if the other guys bullied him on set for not having any action experience at all. In this sort-of-action-movie he’s not playing an action role, or even a desk jockey cop. He’s what you would expect, the asshole TV host who pretends to be a friend and colleague to Eddie but turns around – while holding the hand of the widow at the memorial service! – and makes a deal to pay the murderers a million dollars for a video of it. Fuck this guy! But Grammer’s good at it. His best sleazy is when he’s on his show introducing the snuff video almost in tears and saying he’s showing it in memory of his dear friend. A real class act.
There’s another EXPENDABLES connection: Herzfeld directed the making-of documentary INFERNO: THE MAKING OF ‘THE EXPENDABLES’. And he was in COBRA.
*I have just found out that Kelsey Grammer is not the voice of Chester Cheetah, it’s just some guy who sounds exactly like him and probly snuck into his house when he was in Bulgaria filming EX3 and tried on his clothes and smelled his sheets and stuff. FUCK THAT GUY. Therefore I am still giving Kelsey Grammer full credit for Chester Cheetah even though he didn’t do anything
VERN has a new action-horror novel out called WORM ON A HOOK! He has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the film criticism books Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics as well as the crime novel Niketown.