In its very first scene, "Along Came a Spider" announces its intention to be just like every other genius criminal vs. brooding cop thriller you've ever seen.
Washington, D.C. detective Alex Cross (Morgan Freeman, reprising his role from "Kiss the Girls") blows a sting operation and gets his pretty female partner killed. But not just plain ol' killed, mind you -- she dangles over a dam in a convertible, so he can look her in the eyes as the car slips and she plunges to her death.
As you might expect after a cheap, manipulative, formulaic emotional hook like that, Cross mopes around blaming himself until a big case falls in his lap and he completely forgets all about that incident, which wasn't relevant to the plot anyway.
A criminal mastermind (Michael Wincott) who leaves ridiculously cryptic clues and makes taunting, voice-altered phone calls to the cops (oh brother, not another one!) kidnaps a senator's young daughter from her private school after posing as one of her teachers for two years (don't even get me started on the Swiss cheese logic of that plot point). Then he personally calls Cross at home to get him on the case.
Why he does this is never clear, but that's the least of this movie's problems. "Spider" puts on airs like it's some kind of thinking person's thriller, but it's the kind of movie with so many suspension of disbelief high hurdles that any police officer, federal agent or audience member with a stitch of common sense would likely snicker all the way through.
For no given reason, this little girl had a Secret Service contingency assigned to her (senators' families are not granted government security details). Badly miscast as the now-distraught agent in charge of the girl's protection is 29-year-old blonde cutie-pie Monica Potter ("Head Over Heels"), who has less than zero credibility in the role.
Cross takes her under his wing as they investigate the kidnapping with the blessing of the FBI, which has jurisdiction but is made up of officers who are in head-scratching awe of our hero's Sherlock Holmesian powers of deduction. You know -- because he spots that one piece of evidence everybody else overlooked and announces the kidnapper has "turned it into a game!"
Next Cross magically deduces where the teacher/kidnapper lived by investigating photographs on his office computer -- instead of just looking up the guy's school records. But after busting in with a SWAT team he discovers -- omigosh! -- the bad guy isn't there. He's only left a wall full of detailed maps, escape plans and 8x10 glossies of the little girl.
Aside from not making any sense, "Along Came a Spider" has a lot going for it. Morgan Freeman gives an upstanding performance. It's a handsome picture, and it's slickly edited for maximum tension. But it's directed by Lee Tamahori, who apparently ignores loopholes and beats clichés to death for a living (see "The Edge," "Mulholland Falls"). As a result, "Spider" never goes more than three or four minutes without stumbling into another plot abyss as if someone left the cover off a manhole.
About half way through the movie, Cross finally wonders why the kidnapper chose this little girl to snatch, seeing as her father is not any kind of high-profile senator. He realizes the girl is being used to get to a classmate -- the son of the Russian president -- and prevents an international incident before turning his attention back to finding the kidnapper and his original hostage.
Why the son of the Russian president goes to a private school in Washington, D.C. is not addressed in any way. Neither is the motive for our baddie wanting to snatch the boy. Is he a terrorist or what?
Here's an even better question: Could this get any stupider? You bet. How about we throw in a couple Secret Service turncoats? And just for kicks, let's give one of them his own, unmotivated scene early in movie just to make it ridiculously obvious he's going to come into play at some point. How about a ransom drop scene that relies on cell phones working inside of subway tunnels?
I could go on and on, but I'm sure you have better things to do than read a catalog of every absurd contrivance in this asinine movie. I know I have better things to do than write them all down.
But let me leave you with the single redeeming factor of this entire film: the little girl. Played by Mika Boorem, Mel Gibson's stubbornly silent daughter in "The Patriot," she has the most credible smarts of any character in the film, outwitting her captors on two separate occasions while still coming across like a scared child.
If the movie's screenwriters were half as smart as this kid, "Spider" might have made the grade.