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The Same Old Fame Game

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 9, 2001


    '15 Minutes' Edward Burns and Robert De Niro deserve more than "15 Minutes."
(P.V. Caruso/New Line Cinema)
Just when you thought they'd finally stopped referencing that overused Andy Warhol quotation about everyone being famous for 15 minutes, someone feels the need to reference it all over again.

This time, we can thank director John Herzfeld, whose violent, superficial drama – and yes, it's actually called "15 Minutes" – teaches us once again that there are many sickos out there who'll kill for their quarter of an hour's worth. The movie, which stars Robert De Niro and Edward Burns, also "discovers" that America will watch anything lurid and controversial, as long as it's on television at the right time.

De Niro twists his lips into the usual tortured flesh pretzel, as he reprises that familiar tough New Yorker shtick. Burns is a delicately featured, gently appealing personality. I mean, who doesn't like these two? They work well together. They look good together. But what a staggering pity they chose such a nasty, hackneyed movie to demonstrate their chemistry.

De Niro is a well-known detective named Eddie Flemming, whose high-profile investigations make the glossies and the TV shows. Burns is Jordy Warsaw, a fire investigator who shuns the limelight. They're brought together by two wild and crazy Europeans (Karel Roden and Oleg Taktarov) who are on a killing spree in Manhattan, armed with knives and a video camera. They also like to burn buildings, which is where Jordy comes in.

Emil (Roden), a head-shaved psychotic, does the killing, while Oleg (Taktarov), who has an insatiable desire to make a great American movie, films the bloody deeds, commentating on the gruesome action.

Their plan is simple: kill, become famous, plead insanity, get off scot-free, then negotiate the movie rights. As detective Eddie and fire marshal Jordy pursue these killers, the Europeans play tabloid news anchor Robert Hawkins (Kelsey Grammer) like a scratchy violin, negotiating exclusive interview rights with him for big bucks. Their infamy grows.

Also in the picture are TV reporter Nicolette (Melina Kanakaredes), who is Eddie's girlfriend, and Daphne (Vera Farmiga), a beautiful Eastern European who becomes the object of the Europeans' fury when she witnesses something she shouldn't.

It's a pleasure to watch De Niro make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. The same goes for Burns. And as cliched Eastern Euro heavies go, Roden and Taktarov are memorably intimidating. The movie's best scene occurs when Jordy and Daphne – who, naturally, fall in love – find themselves caught in a fire trap and have to use all their wits to escape.

But the movie can't shake its central problem: that fame-at-any-price theme, which forces the story into predictable, heavy-handed satire. As with his previous movie, "2 Days in the Valley," which cribbed rather obviously from Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson, Herzfeld's a secondhand-meister, simply regenerating themes, styles and a story line that we've all seen – and tired of – somewhere before. There's also an ugly moral cloud over his motivations. Is a movie that splashes so enthusiastically in blood and makes a meal out of all the media shown in the movie really a cautionary tale or just buying in?

"Who says you can't be success in America?" says Emil in broken English, as TV journalist Hawkins prepares to broadcast the killers' gruesome work. Indeed.

"15 Minutes" (R, 120 minutes) – Contains twisted violence, obscenity and sexual situations.


Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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