Just take a look at the slew of entertainment tabloid-style TV shows and the so-called “reality” shows that have taken over the airwaves and you’ll understand why director John Herzfeld chose celebrity-obsession as the topic for his new action thriller starring Robert De Niro and Edward Burns.
People are enamored with the concept of celebrity and everyone wants his or her own 15 minutes of fame. In 15 Minutes, that concept is explored satirically, but as high action-drama, as cops, criminals and sleazy talk show hosts all hunger to make the media work for them.
De Niro plays Eddie Flemming, a high profile New York detective, whom the media just loves to follow. We even see him on the cover of People Magazine and he’s courted regularly by TV reporters, both serious ones as well as the tabloid TV types personified by “Top Story” news anchor Robert Hawkins (Kelsey Grammer, on leave from his Frazier role) whose professional motto is summed up thus: “If it bleeds, it leads.” It’s all about image. And everyone knows it.
Enter two Eastern European slimeballs, Emil Slovak (Karl Roden) and Oleg Razgul (Oleg Taktarov), in town to procure their cut from a bank job after spending time in prison as the fall guys. Emil is the obvious brains while dimwit Oleg comes obsessed with his dream of making movies. Before you know it, Oleg steals a video camera and the two of them begin a rather unbelievable crime spree that Oleg can’t resist videotaping. Watching some stupid spill-your-guts talk show on TV, Emil comes to realize that in America, no one takes responsibility for his or her actions. This concept frees them up to do as they will, then turn themselves in, and by pleading insanity and protected by a double jeopardy defense, they will soon be free to sell their life stories for mega bucks. Several murders later, they go gunning for top celebrity cop Eddie Flemming himself. What a story that will make.
Also investigating the murder by arson case is Jordy Warsaw (Edward Burns), a Fire Marshall repulsed by the media who teams up with Flemming, more out of necessity rather than willingness.
Among some of the distractions for the two men are Melina Kanakaredes as Flemming’s news reporter girlfriend Nicolette and a Czech girl who catches Jordy’s interest as a possible witness to Emil’s and Oleg’s first crime.
15 Minutes is a fast and furious indictment of celebrity obsession. If you think too hard while watching it, you’ll realize how truly unbelievable the story’s elements are, although there is certainly truth there. Would Emil really want Oleg to be videotaping their crimes and his behavior constantly before the decision is made to sell their life stories? And even then? Could these two guys get away with as much as they do as fast as they do? Well, given the state of our police force, perhaps. Would a tabloid TV show really stoop as low as it does here? Hum. That’s a definite maybe/yes. And are lawyers really without any morals as they plead their clients’ made up insanity pleas? Should I even ask? Maybe the film just seems unbelievable.
Lotta says: I didn’t care for the casting of Kelsey Grammer. Too many Frazier mannerisms came with him. Kanakaredes and Burns are fine and De Niro certainly fits the bill. Some good cinematography, particularly a scene in which Flemming tries to defend himself from the crazies. Otherwise, director/screenwriter John Herzfeld uses Oleg’s ill exposed videotape to good effect. At least, it softens the extreme violence somewhat. Good action throughout. Just the type of movie the parents and school boards of gun-toting loser teens will love to complain about when the next hearings on teen violence come up. Rated R for strong violence, language, nudity, sexuality.