What Robert De Niro is doing mixed up in this thing is anybody's guess. He even does a takeoff on the mirror scene in Taxi Driver, which suggests his soul was on the auction block as well. He's playing Eddie Flemming, a New York City homicide detective who's learned how to work the press. He gives them scoops, they help him flush out the killers, and everybody goes home richer and more famous. But neither Eddie nor his new partner, an arson investigator played by Edward Burns, is quite prepared for a pair of fresh-off-the-boat East Europeans who've come up with a diabolical plan for getting ahead in the land of opportunity. They will videotape themselves murdering people, turn themselves in, plead insanity and then, after being issued get-out-of-jail-free cards, sell their story (and their videos) to the highest bidder. Only in America!
Actually, not even there. 15 Minutes is based on a legal premise that's patently absurd--the ol' you'd-have-to-be-crazy-to-kill-someone-that-way defense. Fine, so Herzfeld stretches the rules a little; chalk it up to dramatic license. The problem is, he stretches them in order to make what is essentially a political point, which is that we as a society aren't tough enough on crime. But wait a minute, we didn't let the slime-oozing East Europeans go, he did. Herzfeld wants to have his cake and blow it up too, which is the only reason he made the Burns character an arson investigator--that, and so he could have someone quip, over a couple's charred remains (which we get a very nice look at), "Talk about smoking after sex."
Good one. Do you see how the movie's heart, to the extent it has one, is in the wrong place? If not, consider the female characters, most of whom are pouring out of their clothes, which is supposed to be okay since they're prostitutes. Only Eddie's girlfriend, whom he can't work up the courage to propose to--a character quirk!--has a regular job. Otherwise, it's Herzfeld's world, women just turn tricks in it. De Niro is slightly miscast as a publicity hound. He's only got two gas settings as an actor, all the way on and all the way off, and for some strange reason, he's gone with the latter this time. Then there's Kelsey Grammer lending his stentorian tones to the crucial role of a tabloid-TV host who'd gladly walk over his own grandmother to get a story. "If it bleeds, it leads," Grammer says, speaking on behalf of the whole 15 Minutes family.