Fifteen Minutes (18)
WHAT Oliver Stone began with Natural Born Killers, John Herzfeld attempts to finish with Fifteen Minutes.
Combining satire with action-packed thriller, Fifteen Minutes – based on the Andy Warhol mantra – considers what could conceivably happen if two outsiders, drunk on the mythological image of America – streets paved with gold, land of the free – decided to test the boundaries of acceptability.
Two East European killers, Emil Slovak and Oleg Razgul (Karel Roden and Oleg Taktarov), become the target of a police manhunt when they commit a series of murders in New York City. Hot on their trail is NYPD homicide detective Eddie Flemming (De Niro), a media superstar who always has a statement for an adoring tabloid Press.
He is reluctantly teamed up with arson investigator Jordy Warsaw (Burns). As the two of them close in on the killers, it becomes apparent that their quarry is not merely killing for a cause, but to attract the media spotlight. As Roden says: “It pays to be a killer in this country.”
In short, commit enough crimes to make headlines. After all, in the good ole US of A, headlines mean celebrity, and celebrity means riches.
It’s an intriguing premise, and it almost works. The alien nature of the two outsiders – they are unknown in the West, but familiar faces in Eastern Europe and Russia – means they make an immediate impact.
It’s like watching Gary Oldman playing a scene with a young Charles Bronson.
The cops hot on their trail are played by Robert De Niro and Edward Burns, the latter best known to UK audiences following his scene-stealing turn in Saving Private Ryan.
As a cop duo De Niro and Burns don’t quite have what it takes. The story lacks the buddy-buddy nature of the Lethal Weapon franchise, and the two stars lack chemistry.
Yet there is something about this story – an amalgam of Natural Born Killers, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Broadcast News, and Of Mice and Men – which keeps one twitching.
As director, producer and writer, Herzfeld has concocted a new spin on an old tale with this considered and outrageous premise. But is it really that outrageous? Herzfeld postulates the theory that US television, always scrabbling for the biggest story, will come to cover anything in the name of news.
Slovak and Razgul, the latter perpetually filming their violence with a video camera, seek to overturn the traditional conventions of TV and play the media at its own game. They commit the crimes in the simple desire to become the type of twisted media figure – Ted Bundy, Richard Ramirez, OJ Simpson – the public appears fascinated with.
Fifteen Minutes is disconcerting in the way violence is casually portrayed, with three murders taking place without the killers batting an eye. There is also a horrendous setpiece fire stunt involving Burns and Vera Farmiga, playing a murder witness.
Yet for all its parts, it becomes the sum of none of them. Neither as damning, nor as satirical, as Natural Born Killers, Fifteen Minutes nevertheless possesses a fabulous sting in the tale, courtesy of Kelsey Grammer as a grasping TV anchorman who will gleefully allows a harrowing “death tape” to be broadcast as the killers watch, sipping milkshakes in Planet Hollywood. The irony is not lost on the audience.
Performances from De Niro and Burns are adequate – both could play this in their sleep – but both Roden and Taktarov look set for bright futures. They are the power behind this film.
Chillingly funny, bitingly satirical, Fifteen Minutes is saved by its anthracite black humour