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Movie Review

Emil and Oleg love to kill. And they want the world to see their gruesome acts. They pretend their heinous deeds are driven by a desire for fame and fortune, but that’s not the truth. They simply take pleasure in killing. Visiting the U.S. from the Czech Republic and Russia respectively, the pair steals a video camera and wastes no time trying it out, recording murder after vicious murder. Emil loves to set fires, so after they kill, they burn the remains, turning 15 Minutes into a twisted homage to both Backdraft and Natural Born Killers. After Emil and Oleg slaughter a police officer, they contact tabloid news anchor Robert Hawkins, offering the videotape in exchange for $1 million. Hawkins makes the deal and soon all the bloody details are flashing across millions of small screens. A huge manhunt ensues while the carnage continues.

positive elements: The value of its message is largely strangled by violent images, but 15 Minutes does illustrate the lengths to which people sometimes go to gain notoriety in our media-saturated world. "If someone eats a rat on TV one week and someone kills a pig the next, then how far are we going to go?" queries director John Herzfeld. "You hope it won’t become as extreme as we’re portraying, but you have to wonder how far television will reach for the ratings."

nudity and sexual content: A prostitute disrobes for Emil. Nearly nude (baring her breasts), she kneels in front of Emil and unzips his pants. Emil then attacks her, beats her, stabs her and kills her. After killing two other people, Emil and Oleg place the bodies in a sexual position before torching them. A black and white photo shows a lingerie-clad woman who has been murdered. Oleg focuses his camera on a woman’s cleavage. Police and fire fighters trade jokes about oral sex.

violent content: Ghastly and gratuitous. Fire scenes provide more than a few tense moments. A fire marshal and an eyewitness to a murder fight for their lives in a booby-trapped apartment. And that’s about as tame as 15 Minutes gets. Emil and Oleg leave a wake of bodies behind them from the second they set foot on American soil. Emil’s weapon of choice is a knife. He stabs his victims repeatedly while Oleg’s camera leers greedily, exulting in the quantities of blood pooling around them. Emil’s murder of the prostitute is rendered in both the stark realism of full color and the surrealism of a solarized video effect Oleg finds on this stolen camera. A woman’s neck is broken. Faces are bludgeoned with everything from a drinking glass to a gun barrel. Gunfire is traded numerous times, resulting in both injury and death. In one dreadful scene, a steady stream of bullets riddle a man’s convulsing and bleeding body. Even worse, many of Oleg and Emil’s murders are seen more than once thanks to instant replays from the videotape.

crude or profane language: Fifty f-words and close to 20 s-words lead an assault of crude and vulgar dialogue. The Lord’s name is abused nearly 20 times.

drug and alcohol content: Police officer Eddie Flemming is an alcoholic. His addiction is so great that he even drinks on the job. Unfortunately, his interactions with alcohol are shrugged off as a side affect of his high-stress occupation. Hawkins and his staff joke about Eddie’s drunkenness. We then see Eddie repeatedly dunking his own face into ice water to sober himself up for his television appearance. Oleg and Emil both drink on numerous occasions, and when their tape is broadcast, they celebrate with champagne. Emil and Eddie smoke cigarettes and cigars.

conclusion:"Never before in history have fame and the law been so closely, and so dangerously, aligned," reads promotional material from 15 Minutes. "Crime, tragedy, chaos: we might fear them, but there's no denying that in today's world, they bring ratings, money and power. So just how far will society's most desperate people go in order to get their ‘fifteen minutes’? And just how willing is the public to watch? These questions come hurtling to the fore in John Herzfeld's smart, searing thriller." True enough. But 15 Minutes doesn’t stop there. In fact, preaching is 15 Minutes’ weak suit. Its fortes are exploitation and titillation. And I’m not the only critic who noticed. "Imagine Hollywood getting on its high horse about ‘reality’ television programs, while exploiting the very same creepy-crawly peepshow production values," writes John Leonard for CBS News. CNN reviewer Paul Clinton saw the same thing. "In one blood-splattering scene after another," he writes, "15 Minutes becomes exactly what it is attempting to mock or satirize—a senseless stream of violent images that eventually numb the viewer."

Ferocious cruelty and senseless violence has become a mainstay for Hollywood. In 1994, Natural Born Killers shocked the world with its brainless brutality. Now it wouldn’t even start a buzz. Then, it was on the cutting edge. Now, it would merely be one of many. Hannibal. 3,000 Miles to Graceland. Snatch. 15 Minutes. That’s enough to make you scream. Or weep.

None of this would be worthy of so much ink if violence wasn’t so very real in our culture. Pointless acts of aggression and rage play out on street corners just like they do in movie theaters. That’s why I silently grieve every time I sit in a darkened theater watching the credits slowly scroll by at the end of yet another violent film. Each one the latest, greatest Hollywood creation glorifying, exalting and wallowing in the dregs of inhumanity.

"I love America," hisses Emil. "No one is responsible for what they do." Especially in Hollywood.


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