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15 Minutes of Fame

Are you ready for this? In New Line Cinema's latest film, 15 Minutes, Robert De Niro's character gets killed. Whacked Sent to the harp farm. By two Eastern European psychos who weasel their way past a suspicious U.S. customs agent at New York's Kennedy Airport and into America. The two men, who give new gravity to the word "nogoodnik", are Emil Slovak (played with intense wickedness by actor Karel Roden) and Oleg Razgur, a Russian a few kopeks short of a ruble played by actor Oleg Tatrakov. Once inside New York City the two waste very little time in showing what bad men they are (Slovak, with his shaved blond head and piercing blue eyes looks evil; Razgur simply looks dumb).

On his first day in New York Razgur immediately sees a camcorder retailing for about $2,200 and immediately helps himself to it via a "five-finger discount" (he does everything Russian-Just-Arrived-In-America except exclaim, "What a country!"). With state-of-the-art camcorder on his shoulders Razgur immediately begins to film Slovak's every evil deed-and there are many, many of these to record.First Slovak kills a former "business partner" of his from the old country, along with his wife, and he's just getting started.

When we first see Robert De Niro's character, ace NYPD detective Eddie Flemming, he is imitating Huey Lewis (e.g., Lewis' 1984 "I Want a New Drugs " video) by sticking his face in a basin full of ice water. It is clear he is going to take on the investigation. Because a fire (one of Slovak's evil little specialties) was involved in the murder, New York Fire Department arson investigator Jordy Warsaw is on the case, too. Together Flemming and Warsaw go after the killer (or killers, for at the start they aren't quite too sure how many villains they are dealing with).

Isn't until after the nefarious Slovak murders a Czech call girl duly recorded by partner Razgur, that Flemming and Warsaw get a handle on just what type of serial murderer they are dealing with (Warsaw is able to get information from the reluctant madam of the escort service; she is, it turns out, a Slovakian national who has stayed in the U.S. long past her six-month visa has expired.).

In the meantime, Slovak has watched a U.S. teary-TV talk show (Roseanne's, to be precise) in which a man charged with murder walked because of a temporary-insanity plea. When the miscreant apologizes on TV, this causes Slovak to exclaim: "I love America! No one is responsible for what they do!"

Into this mix comes Robert Hawkins (played by Kelsey Grammer), host of a popular tabloid TV show called "Top Story". Hawkins wants all the dirt he can come up with on the arson-murders ("If it bleeds, it leads," Hawkins exclaims, echoing the rapidly-molding media canard). Grammer plays Hawkins a couple of I.Q. points below that of Dr. Frasier Crane and, in doing so, in the opinion of this reviewer, successfully makes the leap from the small screen to the big screen (Grammer, freed from the constraints of television's standards-and-practices rule, also plays Hawkins with a mouth as foul as that of a stevedore. Or even Erin Brockovich.).

The climactic moment of the movie comes when the refugees from the ex-Evil Empire capture Flemming and bind him to a chair in an abandoned warehouse with duct tape (Question: Are there any non-evil uses for duct tape?) and tell him flat-out that they are going to kill him. We, the audience, are used to such scenes where a protagonist is bound and told that he or she is about to meet his or her Maker and then while the villain gives a half-hour lecture on his means and methods, our hero or heroine breaks free of the bonds that had restrained him or her. Not so in 15 Minutes. Slovak follows through on his threat to kill Flemming and-after shooting him in the top of the head-we are given a horrible POV of Flemming dying. First a black cloth is draped across his face and then a moment of blackness and absolute silence emanate from the screen (whatever happened to the long tunnel, the bright light and the deceased relatives waiting to greet you? Was Shirley MacLaine that wrong?).

Now Jordy Warsaw and Flemming's intended, a member of the media herself named Nicolette (Melina Kanakaredes), have a motive for catching the killers: revenge. When finally caught, Slovak puts his "Nobody-In-America-is-responsible-for-what-they-do" plan into action by first hiring high-powered attorney Bruce Cutler (who plays himself) and conning him into defending him, using the temporary-insanity plea (Cutler, in real life, is no stranger to representing really bad guys-his most famous client was John Gotti).

Fifteen Minutes' denouement takes place in Manhattan's Battery Park, where Emil Slovak is paraded before the media before his stint in the loony bin is to begin. Unbeknownst to the others ("Get a close-up of the Statue of Liberty!" Hawkins commands his camera crew) Igor Razgur is standing with his own purloined camcorder. He tells Emil outright that he has the full tape of Emil planning his crime. Slovak somehow gets his hands on a gun and turns the lights out for Razgur. Slovak, in turn, is "whacked" by Jordy Warsaw. As they are leaving the bloody scene, Hawkins confronts Jordy and implores him to coˆperate with TV. "Let the media be your friend," Hawkins tells Warsaw. Warsaw's response is a swift right to Hawkins' kisser, which knocks the media-man to the ground and earns Warsaw kudos from policemen standing around.

If there is any message to 15 Minutes, it is that there is a symbiosis between the media, the police (Flemming had through himself invincible because of his fame as a New York police detective) and criminals (think the Menendez brothers, O.J. and now probably that "poor, little mixed-up, homesick boy" who blew away two classmates and injured several others in that shooting rampage in Santee, California). "Media spin" has turned bad guys into good guys and evil killers and rapists into victims. In that respect, 15 Minutes is a very Republican movie. The true good guys, this film seems to be telling us, are the police and the fire fighters who daily risk their lives to try and make this a safer place for the rest of us. It is the media that, in its quest for what used to be termed "blood, guts and orgasms" coverage that has perverted the natural order of right and wrong and has skewed the social fabric in favor of the bad guys (a Central Park mugger who attempted to attack Warsaw earlier in the film, only to be handcuffed by the fireman to a tree, later makes an appearance on TV, dressed to the nines, and declares himself to be a victim of police brutality. Go figure.). Fifteen Minutes will not leave a good taste in your mouth (one of this reviewer's viewing party had to leave the film for a few minutes, saying that she just "couldn't take much more" of the constant violence) and it is not one of Robert De Niro's better roles.

It is, however, a good introductory film for Edward Burns and if Kelsey Grammer can indeed make the Olympian leap from TV to the movies, then that may be a good thing