15 Minutes manages to spice up a generic action plot

In an era when reality television rules, shocking and violent programs pass as entertainment. A desensitized public that is always looking for the next best thrill makes real-life killers into celebrities.

Director John Herzeld’s new film, 15 Minutes (New Line Cinema), adds an interesting spin to the played-out action-thriller genre, showing the interactions between the public, media and criminals-turned-celebrities.

The film revolves around two killers, Emil Slovak, played by actor Karl Roden, and Oleg Razgul, played by Siberian martial artist Oleg Taktarov. Both actors make their U.S. debuts.

The two killers arrive in the United States and almost instantly become embroiled in a double homicide, which they capture on a personal camcorder. The pair quickly realizes that in America, they can use the filmed crimes to gain celebrity status, and avoid legal punishment by using an insanity plea.

When a young arson investigator, played by Ed Burns (Saving Private Ryan), begins investigating the crime, he is thrown alongside media-savvy homicide detective Eddie Flemming, played by Robert DeNiro (Meet the Parents). The two begin their attempt to catch the killer, and the investigation escalates into a sensationalist cat-and-mouse chase with the media scrutinizing their every move.

The film’s basic plot is nothing special: two tough investigators track a set of clever criminals. The first half of the movie provides little more than clich? action thriller content, and the jokes are stale and out of place. The film fails in its attempt to drive home its message about the media’s influence on crime and public life.

But the movie takes a dramatic and unexpected turn for the better halfway through. Once the killers sell their shocking videotape to a popular tabloid TV show, hosted by Kelsey Grammer (“Frasier”), 15 Minutes explodes and fully redeems itself. The movie suddenly becomes exciting and inventive. The audience becomes entangled as the film twists and turns through the action. The dark humor, as well as the action, becomes lively and intelligent.

The film’s social commentary also becomes painfully clear as television news channels air a live murder, journalists sacrifice integrity for a shocking story and lawyers help killers get away with murder for a cut of the profits. The audience is forced to analyze who is most in the wrong: the killers, the media or the public.

While the latter half of the film is inventive and intense, the film overall has a few problems. The relationship between DeNiro and Burns develops too quickly. It is unrealistic that an arson investigator would get assigned to a homicide case alongside a high-profile detective. Also, the love interest that Burns has for the only witness to the murders is clearly forced, and unnecessary for the plot.

For the most part, performances are excellent. DeNiro plays his usual tough-guy role, and pulls it off as usual. Burns is weak and standard at best. Grammer plays his role well, but seems out of place playing a scheming media giant.

The two American newcomers give the film’s strongest performances. Karl Roden is superb in the role of the mastermind of the plan. He is shockingly convincing as a dangerous psychopath set to glorify murder. His partner, Oleg Taktarov, is perfect as the man behind the camera, playing the role with a certain innocence that makes his character funny and oddly likeable.

All in all 15 Minutes is an inventive action-thriller that takes a fairly generic plot line and, by throwing in a hand-held camera and some social commentary, makes it unexpectedly engaging and enjoyable. Well, at least half of it.
15 Minutes opens in theaters Friday

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