The medium, said Marshall Macluhan famously, is the message. The makers of 15 Minutes should have listened to the media-theorist. It is very difficult to condemn sensationalism and celebrity worship with a loud, big-budgeted Hollywood production. Set in Manhattan, 15 Minutes follows police detective Eddie Flemming (Robert De Niro) on a wily criminal chase. Flemming is world weary and media-savvy: he brings a tabloid reality TV reporter (Kelsey Grammar) along on photogenic busts. In pursuit of murdering arsonists, Flemming teams up with shy fire expert Jordy Warsaw (Edward Burns). Together they pursue a pair of high-end Eastern European thugs. Oleg (Oleg Taktarov) obsesses over filmmaker Frank Capra; his partner Emil waxes poetic on America's therapy-infected notion of responsibility; combining their talents they commit outlandish crimes and record it all with a handheld camera.
The evil foreigners reflect American celebrity culture and its links to crime. This distancing is an odd choice, especially given the rash of well-publicized school shootings that are often inspired by similar events in the media. (See last year's Pups with Burt Reynolds for a gripping indictment of TV's relationship to youth violence.) The Slavic men understand how to make the U.S. judicial system work for them, even down to choreographing a legal ballet in which they turn themselves in only to become media heroes and win the sympathy of American viewers. We've come a long way since Sacco and Vanzetti.
With sad irony, 15 Minutes has internalized the media overload it speaks against. De Niro spoofs his Travis Bickle character, anachronistic Roseanne talk show clips appear, and self-reflexive video footage fills every scene. Then there's the mayhem. You can't critique gratuitous violence by using it. 15 Minutes' infamy will be short-lived.