Director/screenwriter John Herzfeld is taking to task no less than modern media culture the sensationalising of violence by news programs and tabloid tv, the faux catharsis of suffering and blame offered by talkshow tv, as well as the good old chestnuts of the liberal justice system and the insanity plea. Every character in the film seems to have been set up to vocalise a particular point-of-view about the media that the film wants to challenge Kelsey Grammers ratings-obsessed, morality-free tv anchor offering platitudes about telling the truth; the lawyer demanding a percentage cut of the profits of his clients story; a killer blaming everything on his psychiatrists failure to properly medicate him and the other killer on his partners manipulating him; the police captain making his decisions based on media reactions; even clips from an episode of The Roseanne Show (1998-2000) of a father begging his sons apology for sleeping with his daughter-in-law.
15 Minutes doesnt write characterisation so much as it creates straw figures. This is never more clearly demonstrated than a scene early on, seemingly unrelated to anything else, with Edward Burns turning the tables on a mugger in Central Park and handcuffing him to a tree in another film, this might have made for a cute throwaway gag but here it is a set-up for another facet of media exploitation for John Herzfeld to vent spleen about later in the film. Herzfeld is clearly outraged about the media but he swings too broadly at everything. Ratings hungry tv producers exploiting violence, tabloid talkshows exploiting suffering, greedy lawyers and psychopaths exploiting an overly liberal justice system are all thrown together as one. When Edward Burns punches out Kelsey Grammers tv host at the end of the film, it is a cumulative expression of disgust on the part of the film against all forms of media and something that we are clearly meant to empathise with. However, there is no sophistication to a point-of-view that fails to distinguish between exploitative or responsible journalism or even consider that maybe some killers are insane.
Ultimately, 15 Minutes is no different from Dirty Harry (1971) and his sneer of disgust at the straw targets of a liberal legal system and weak bureaucrats. When you also consider that director John Herzfeld had been working through the 1980s and 90s on various true story tv movies that exploit the same sort of sensationalism the film condemns, most notably Casualties of Love: The Long Island Lolita Story (1993) about the Amy Fisher-Joey Buttafuoco case, his point-of-view here seems a little hypocritical. Oliver Stones Natural Born Killers (1994) and Series 7: The Contenders (2001), which was released a week before this film, use the same themes of media outrage with a much sharper satiric edge than 15 Minutes.
It is not that 15 Minutes is badly made either. Herzfeld gets good performances from his entire cast, especially Robert De Niro as might be expected and Czech-born Karel Roden who is like an evil leprechaun as the principal killer. There are a surprising number of name stars present, including cameos from Kim Cattrall and an unrecognisable Charlize Theron as the madam of an escort service. The thriller aspect does come together well during the search for the girl and with Herzfeld developing some okay plot twists in the last fifteen minutes. Herzfeld has also done his homework impressively in regard to homicide and arson forensics. If it had stayed in this territory, 15 Minutes might have been an altogether better film.
John Herzfelds one other venture into genre material was the John Travolta-Olivia Newton-John angelic intervention fantasy bomb Two of a Kind (1983).