A queasy but kinetic mixture of action thriller, misanthropic black comedy, and ham-fisted media satire, 15 Minutes follows Natural Born Killers in wrongfully assuming that the best way to satirize the violence, amorality, and sensationalism of American culture is to embody it wholesale. Less a film than a feature-length exercise in the pot calling the kettle black, 15 Minutes follows a superstar cop (Robert De Niro) and an arson investigator (Ed Burns) who reluctantly join forces to investigate a fire that may have been set to conceal a murder. Burns and De Niro share top billing, but neither receives anywhere near as much screen time as unknowns Karel Roden and Oleg Taktarov, who play crazed Europeans who videotape their crimes in the hope of becoming media celebrities. Sociopaths whose intelligence and sanity vary from scene to scene, Roden and Taktarov view America through the lens of tabloid media, as a Darwinian dystopia full of voyeurs and exhibitionists, exploiters and happy exploitees—a place where money is king and no one is held responsible for their actions. It's a grim, reductive, familiar worldview, embodying huge chunks of not just Natural Born Killers, but also Strange Days and Man Bites Dog. Writer-director John Herzfeld seems to share that worldview, if 15 Minutes' grim, simplistic misanthropy is any indication. Having established the media—most specifically in the person of amoral tabloid journalist Kelsey Grammer—as a straw man responsible for most of society's ills, Herzfeld proceeds to knock it down repeatedly, with periodic breaks for an action thriller's worth of car chases, explosions, shoot-outs, and grisly murders. The Lovers On The Bridge cinematographer Jean-Yves Escoffier's vivid, hyper-realistic camera work keeps the film looking good, and Herzfeld maintains a breathless pace that keeps it from getting boring, but neither can conceal its emptiness and hypocrisy. Slick, watchable, and emotionally and intellectually bankrupt, 15 Minutes is ultimately indistinguishable from the flood of violent, lurid, sensationalistic media product it purports to critique.
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