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15 Minutes

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Like many ambitious, provocative films, "15 Minutes" is a bit of a mess. Both audacious and unwieldy, exciting and excessive, this dark thriller is too long, too violent and not always convincing. But at the same time, there's no denying that it's onto something, that its savage indictment of the nexus involving media, crime and a voracious public is a cinematic statement difficult to ignore.

For despite its traditional cops-and-killers format, "15 Minutes" (its title taken from Andy Warhol's prediction of how long everyone in the future can expect to be famous) is a polemical, apocalyptic film. Writer-director John Herzfeld is furious at the "if it bleeds, it leads" nature of our TV news culture, at the intertwined lusts for fame and gore that rule a society where publicity is more important than reality, everyone plays the victim, and everything is for sale.

Though its anger is a force to be reckoned with, "15 Minutes" finds some space to be funny, albeit in a bleak way, and even provides unexpected moments of romance. Herzfeld, whose debut film was the equally impudent if less impressive "2 Days in the Valley," has utilized an appropriately off-center sensibility for his story, taking the strands of crime melodrama and twisting them to fit his particular purposes.

A key factor in keeping "15 Minutes" involving is its look. Working with inventive French cinematographer Jean Yves Escoffier ("Les Amants du Pont-Neuf," "The Cradle Will Rock," "Nurse Betty") and editor Steven Cohen, Herzfeld is determined to keep things kinetic and visually interesting. He even makes vivid use of footage shot on a video camera by one of the actors while in character.

In general outline a policier about two of the good guys chasing a pair of villains, "15 Minutes" utilizes marquee names Robert De Niro and Edward Burns for its investigators, but generates more interest with the two lesser-known actors who get to create all the havoc.

Emil Slovak (Karel Roden) and Oleg Razgul (Oleg Taktarov) are exceptionally good as the Eastern European version of those criminal odd couples movies delight in spawning. While Emil is shrewd and ruthless, Oleg is childlike, dreamy and obsessed with being a filmmaker. "I am here for movies," he tells a baffled New York immigration official, adding by way of explanation, "I saw 'It's a Wonderful Life.' "

Actually, Emil and Oleg are here to get the money owed them from an earlier criminal action. This, not surprisingly, proves to be difficult, and soon Emil is creating mayhem, and Oleg, a fan of "Silence of the Sheeps" who registers at hotels as famed director Frank Capra, is recording it. "A tragedy," he says with conviction after one particularly bleak event. "Every great film must have one."

This kind of activity brings Emil and Oleg to the attention of



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