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First there was Aldrich Ames and now there’s Robert Hanssen — Hanssen being the Soviet intelligence agent who remained undiscovered for 15 years in the depths of the FBI. But how about another kind of very dangerous individual coming direct from Eastern Europe?
The new film, opening next weekend, “15 Minutes” traces how two such characters — one from Russia and the second from the Czech Republic, not spies but rather potential psychopaths — do what mischief they can on a short stay in New York. Their goal, not immodest, is to gain those 15 minutes of American fame they’ve heard about. To succeed in this ambitious venture, they cut a deal with an American TV newscaster to turn over footage of their murder of a hugely popular New York City cop. Price? A cool million.
Their launching point is the purchase of a video camera for $2,200. The Russian is a mad movie buff and goes around calling himself Frank Capra. He wields the video cam. The picture takes in all the scuzziest parts of New York City and their principle obstacles are Robert de Niro, playing an extraordinarily resourceful New York police detective, and young Edward Burns, a fire marshal and sometime sidekick — an actor not yet known to the vast cinema world but thoroughly convincing and vivid.
Well, if you want to see the seamy side of New York — with call girls, street crime, the world’s grungiest city — this is the film for you. Interestingly the grungiest part of this grungy city is the part that gets a good portion of the film’s attention, although young and pretty call girls get, perhaps, more than their share. A fetching red-haired hairdresser falls in with the young fireman, but he is prevented from pursuing the relationship because of “rules.” She is a witness to the exceedingly violent murders of a Czech couple living in New York; he was supposed to be holding money for his compatriot — the Czech “tourist” freshly arrived to collect, but has spent it all. The young witness faces deportation, which is too bad because she and Burns make an attractive couple.
There is little attractive however about our two brutes from Eastern Europe. Once apprehended in the middle of their daring venture — and having recently seen this stratagem on American TV — the Czech figures he’ll plead insanity if caught, although just how much of an advantage this will win him if forcibly returned to Eastern Europe remains obscure.
The two dangerous visitors rapidly assimilate all the psychobabble about “victimization” which they pick up from television. They are not the only malodorous characters in the film. Kelsey Grammer (of “Frasier” fame) does a dazzling turn as a TV tabloid anchor on the hunt for a lead story at any cost.
The film abounds with action: a foot chase of our villains through New York’s Upper East Side, a burning building — a fire trap — in a more sleazy part of the city near Times Square, to say nothing of the spectacular final shoot-out in New York’s Battery Park.
In this season of fairly mediocre films, this rip-roaring “action” movie, with its searing indictment of a widely popular form of television, promises to be one of the most successful and hard-hitting movies of year.