If you love buddy cop movies with partners who get shot, you'll love 15 Minutes, because it features a pair of cops who meet another pair of cops, and each pair includes one partner who gets shot, and then later the two remaining cops become buddies and partners and one of them gets shot. No, seriously. It's as though the standard buddy cop movie had been rewritten by a mathematician.
Oddly, though, 15 Minutes doesn't bill itself as a boilerplate police drama, but rather as a commentary upon our culture's obsession with fame, mass media and the blunting of responsibility. The plot centers on Oleg and Emil, two men who are so evil that they're actually from Eastern Europe. Czech Oleg (played by Russian actor Oleg Taktarov) and Russian Emil (played by Czech actor Karel Roden) have come to America (or at least the part between Canada and Mexico ... you know, New York City) in order to collect on an old debt.
In Czech, though, the phrase "collect on an old debt" means "kill the guy who screwed you over and let you rot in jail." Of course, the violence doesn't end there because killing people is like eating potato chips: It's hard to stop with just one. Thus Oleg and Emil come to the attention of the police. This is trouble for Oleg and Emil because, as movies have taught us, police are people who do things like hunt down criminals and have vaguely homoerotic relationships with their partners and piss off the brass because of their intense desire to see justice done at any cost.
Anyway, director John Herzfeld wasn't satisfied with making just another "boy meets cop, boy kills cop, cop's partner goes apeshit" movie. No, he wanted there to be a message. See, Oleg and Emil videotape their crimes. Deep, eh?
After watching lots of Jerry Springer guests claim that their screwed-up childhoods are the reason they're sleeping with their daughter's children's pets, Oleg and Emil realize that nobody in America is responsible for anything they do. Also, they learn that America has this great thing called "not guilty by reason of insanity," so they decide that if they film their crimes then they have a perfect excuse, because only crazy people and Peruvian government officials would be stupid enough to film their own criminal activity.
In order to hammer home his theme about fame and the power of the media, Herzfeld has Oleg and Emil chased by two cops, one who appears on the cover of People Magazine and is the topic of tabloid TV shows, and another who doesn't own a TV and doesn't care about being famous. Yawn. Then there's the television anchor who'll do anything to attract viewers, including airing the tape that Oleg and Emil made of their crimes. Wow, what a daring critique of the media: TV shows will actually broadcast objectionable material just to get better ratings. It's stunning that no one has thought to raise this point ever before in the history of our nation.
Frankly, though, I feel dirty even mentioning the whole "message" aspect of this movie, because it's such a blatant and shallow attempt to manipulate the critics into writing about how controversial and self-conscious this film is. Basically, 15 Minutes is just your average shoot-em-up, which isn't a bad thing if you're willing to suspend disbelief enough to enjoy the scene where the cop shoots into the crowd of hostages and only hits the bad guy. It's even reasonably diverting on that turn-off-your-brain level, which is about all we can ask from a movie. The problem, though, is that the "message" aspect of the film isn't any smarter, or any less a rehash of previous material, than the dumb-ass action stuff.
The limits of this film are exemplified in its best scene: Robert DeNiro, playing famous cop Eddie Fleming, is planning to propose to his girlfriend (the comely Melina Kanakaredes). He stands in front of a mirror, in homage to his famous "you talking to me?" scene from Taxi Driver, saying "You wanna get married? You wanna get married to me? Nobody else here ... you must wanna get married to me." While this is deeply amusing to those Gen Xers who've been forced to listen to their friends repeat every line from Taxi Driver ad nauseum, it's also indicative of what's wrong with this movie: There's nothing in it that isn't already in some other film. Even its critique and commentary have been done before, and better, and to death in movies such as The Big Circus and A Face in the Crowd and Scream.
This use of plot points and ideas from every other film about media, or fame, or cops, or whatever, is all reminiscent of Hegel's comment that, at the end of history, we will simply recombine the existing elements of our culture without ever again producing anything new.
Or maybe it was best summed up by Jean Paul Sartre when he said, "Hell is other movies."