We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
In 1992, when Man Bites Dog followed a film crew that was following a sociopathic killer, the movie’s premise already had a dog-bites-man familiarity about it. Almost a decade later, writer-director John Herzfeld’s reiteration of the theme is both brutish and hypocritical—especially coming from the guy whose previous film, 2 Days in the Valley, gloried in sub-Tarantino gore. Most of the characters in 15 Minutes, like those in its predecessor, are in some way corrupt: Celebrity cop Eddie Flemming (Robert De Niro) tells people that his high profile helps him solve cases, but he really enjoys the notoriety. Tabloid-TV host Robert Hawkins (Kelsey Grammer), Eddie’s friend, ally, and exploiter, poses as a crime-fighter but cares only about ratings. The two meet their rotten match in a pair of homicidal new arrivals from Eastern Europe: Emil (Karel Roden) revels in his contempt for the softhearted American legal system—”You Americans are pussies,” he sneers—while Oleg (Oleg Taktarov) videotapes their crimes. (Herzfeld had the actor actually shoot the character’s footage, a gambit Spike Lee had already used in Get on the Bus.) Somehow existing outside this media-crime feedback loop is Jordy Warsaw (Edward Burns), an arson investigator who allies with Eddie after determining that two of the Eurothugs’ victims were murdered before their apartment was set on fire. Jordy tries to save Daphne (Vera Farmiga), a witness to the killings, who Emil and Oleg mistakenly believe works for a call-girl madam (a cameo by Charlize Theron, who made her U.S. debut in 2 Days). Soon, though, Emil becomes more interested in Eddie than Daphne; he’s as obsessed with besting the TV-star detective as Oleg is with establishing himself as the new Frank Capra. As the only major character who isn’t thinking in mass-media terms, Jordy is, of course, the true hero, although his regular-guydom is undermined by Herzfeld’s blatant contrivances and ludicrous vigilante-flick finale. Despite its title, flashes of stale irony, and feints at social comment, 15 Minutes owes more to Charles Bronson than to Andy Warhol. —Mark Jenkins