Though it’s being marketed as a thriller, 11 Minutes has more in common with the horror genre—specifically, with the Final Destination franchise and its elaborate, Rube Goldberg-style deaths. That makes this Polish import sound far more interesting than it actually is, however. Imagine a gore-free Final Destination entry that kills off a bunch of people in a single climactic set piece lasting two or three minutes (thanks to slo-mo), with the preceding hour-plus devoted entirely to setting that catastrophe in motion. Then imagine that the series of improbable events that dooms everyone isn’t even clever or ghoulish—just a matter of moving random characters around, slooooowly, so that they’re all in the same general area when one thing goes awry. Now further imagine that said characters are so singularly tiresome that one’s reaction to their obliteration is not horror, nor even relief, but merely indifference. That’s what 11 Minutes offers: an extravagantly pointless exercise in protracting the buildup to some meaningless carnage, garnished with metaphysical pretension so cutesy and vague that it feels actively insulting.
Usually, a movie this slick and empty would herald the arrival of a young, inexperienced director who’s desperate to impress. In this case, surprisingly, the culprit is 77-year-old Jerzy Skolimowski, who made his reputation decades ago with such comparatively thoughtful and sedate films as Deep End (1970) and Moonlighting (1982). It’s not a for-hire gig, either—Skolimowski wrote the dreadful script all by himself, reportedly inspired by a nightmare he had. That would explain the random nature of the various narrative threads, which include casting-couch mind games between a sleazy director (Richard Dormer) and an actor (Paulina Chapko); a hot dog vendor (Andrzej Chyra) who’s recently been released from prison and appears to be a former teacher who slept with a student; a team of paramedics attempting to get past some crazy dude in a stairwell so they can rescue not one but two people in need of aid; and a woman (Ifi Ude) who just kind of wanders around with her dog, which she’s taken custody of following a breakup.
None of these mini-stories—and there are several more—are of even marginal interest on their own. Some, like the casting-couch scenario, constitute bad theater (Dormer desperately needs a mustache to twirl); others, like one featuring a kid (Lukasz Sikora) who seems to be nervously contemplating a robbery, are so disjointed that they barely register. There’s nothing to do but wait to see how all of these nonentities will eventually link up, which makes the film almost paralyzingly dull until its last few minutes (not even 11, mind you; the structural-temporal conceit suggested by the title is mostly ignored). Skolimowski has generally been a formally restrained director throughout his career, but 11 Minutes’ climax, which is its clear raison d’être, tries for the operatic mayhem of Brian De Palma and lands with a gigantic, laughable belly flop. Despite a feeble effort to toss in some thematic import (by way of a mysterious object in the sky observed by several characters), the movie isn’t about anything apart from its own ostensible virtuosity, and that’s a complete whiff. Which leaves… nothing. Well, the images are all in focus. Good job there.