Home Video Hovel- 96 Minutes, by Jack Fleischer
The film 88 Minutes was a prime example of how dangerous it is to name a film after its length. With 96 Minutes being a direct to DVD release after a blinkingly short and limited theatrical release, I didn’t expect much. While I would have recommended that this movie be named anything else, I can say that it is more than a bargain-bin flick. This film has a good story, compelling performances, and competent direction. It isn’t a great movie, but it has shining moments. With some luck it will find its audience.
96 Minutes is told in a flashback style that ever so faintly mirrors Reservoir Dogs. It’s the story of two high school boys trying to find adulthood, and two college women headed towards life after graduation. Over the course of a day they live their separate, yet oddly parallel lives, until an act of violence forces them together for a life changing evening. This is a dramatic examination of race, class, and fear … although you wouldn’t necessarily get this if you just saw the DVD on a shelf.
To the movie’s detriment, the cover and tag line, “Out of options. Out of control. Out of time,” makes the whole thing feel like a cheesy low-budget action-thriller. Don’t let the box art fool you. This movie is neo-kitchen-sink-realism hinging on measured performances, not just a movie designed to fill a genre slot.
Tension and suspense are the film’s strongest elements. While certain parts of the story might seem predictable, there are little things that can keep an attentive audience on the hook. Admittedly there were moments where I wanted to skip chapters, but the ending convinced me that it was worthwhile to have stuck with it.
The movie’s final scenes are more of an epilogue than a proper chapter in this story — yet they’re also my favorite part of the film. There has an unsettlingly satisfying tragedy that shines thanks to great performances from Evan Ross (ATL), and Brittany Snow (Hairspray, John Tucker Must Die).
Speaking of the acting, everyone in the cast brought their A-game. Ross and Snow were well supported by J. Michael Trautman and Christian Serratos (Twilight). Also appearing in a small roll is up and comer David Oyelowo (Red Tails, Lincoln), who owns the screen when he’s on it.
Although this motion picture is occasionally mired in movie racism clichés, these clichés often (not always) work to drive the story forward. While I don’t feel that writer/director Aimee Lagos made any startling revelations about race or class in America, I think she used these elements to build a story more about people dealing with real world fears, rather than race.
For all this film’s good aspects, it is by no means perfect. Its primary fault being that it is a story outside its medium. While there are cinematic aspects to the tale, more than a few times it seemed like it would have worked better as a play or as an exceptional episode of a television show.
This is where the curse of title rears its head, because at cinematic length the story drags. Certain character revelations seem unnecessary. Sometimes there are explanations that might have been better left unexplained. Then, (as much as it pains me to say it), there’s David Oyelowo’s character who seems largely unnecessary. This is unfortunate due to his excellent performance, and also because he and Lagos provide the DVD’s lone, true, “special feature” – a commentary track.
While 96 Minutes has its flaws, there are absolutely people out there who will enjoy it. At the very least, with its strong director and cast, I imagine this will be a notable footnote in some prominent careers.