I don’t know what it is about the number 88 in movies. Maybe it’s because 88 Minutes sticks in my mind so much that I feel it’s more prevalent than it actually is — and that’s only because 88 Minutes was so atrociously bad — but I feel like it’s a pretty common number. I mean, there’s even a distribution studio for cult movies called “88 Films.” There must be something about it. Regardless, there’s now a movie simply called 88, and it’s an action-thriller-mystery movie.
It stars Katharine Isabelle as Gwen/Flamingo. Text at the beginning of the film tells us that 1 in 2000 people, at some point in their lives, undergo a “fugue state” event, which has them act completely outside themselves and with little-to-no memory before the event, and also failing to remember what happened while in a fugue state. “Flamingo” is Gwen while in a fugue state. The film jumps back and forth between Gwen after the fugue state and Flamingo right at the start of it. The only thing we know is that, eventually, both of them want a man named Cyrus dead.
The mystery aspect of the film comes from a bunch of different sources. What triggered the fugue state? Why does Gwen have a gun, and why are the police chasing her? Who really killed Gwen’s boyfriend. What is Cyrus’ (Christopher Lloyd) role in all of this? Who are all the secondary characters? There’s a lot to figure out and the film’s only going to reveal it all at the end, even if an observant viewer is likely going to figure it all out well before then. 88 isn’t as mysterious as it wishes it was. That doesn’t make it unenjoyable.
In fact, there are lots of parts of 88 that are lots of fun. All of the Flamingo sequences put Isabelle in a mode in which she cares about nothing, and it’s lots of fun to watch her deadpan her way through that. As Gwen, she’s often hysterical, at least at the beginning, but soon enough acts more normal, and even starts to channel her Flamingo side. The dual role flip-flops every few minutes in order to keep things fresh, although in doing so it feels the need to remind us what events brought us to this point in time. And it does this each time. We get a brief flashback each time we flip between them, as if our memory only goes back a couple of minutes.
It shows a lack of confidence in the audience from our director, April Mullen (who also has a brief role in the film). This technique winds up becoming annoying and not particularly helpful, since we can remember more than a few minutes, as it turns out, and it’s not likely you’re going to forget what brought a certain character to where she is now. There are other flashbacks that are deliberately confusing scattered throughout as both Gwen and Flamingo try to figure out what went on earlier as the other “character.”
Eventually, the film gets a touch repetitive, the charm wears off, and the conclusion is cleared up. For all its mystery, the story is actually pretty simple, and even if you don’t figure it out before 88 ends, you’re likely going to look back and think “well, that was basic.” That’s fine, as it’ll hook you in the moment for most of its running time, but it doesn’t give a strong lasting impression, nor will it warrant multiple watches.
88 doesn’t have the most well-known cast, but its actors are good and some of them are names you might recognize. As our lead, Katharine Isabelle is a joy to watch in her dual roles, getting to play both the tough side and the sensitive side to her characters. Christopher Lloyd is surprisingly menacing as Cyrus. Michael Ironside is in the film as a Sheriff in a couple of scenes. Hey, remember Jesse McCartney? He’s in this movie! Tim Doiron, who wrote the screenplay, gets to act as an energetic sidekick to the deadpan Flamingo.
Is 88 a fun time? For the most part, sure. A lot of that success rides on how captivating Katharine Isabelle is in her dual roles, while flipping back and forth between them with great frequency helps keep things fresh, even if the mini-flashbacks we get each time aren’t helpful and are annoying. The central mysteries aren’t too difficult to figure out, and the story’s unlikely to hold your attention on multiple viewings, but in the moment, 88 is fun enough to warrant its brief (88 — ha! — minutes) running time.