When you think "movie franchise," you think Harrison Ford or maybe Eddie Murphy... but Morgan Freeman? Yet, with the middling $60 million take of 1997's Kiss the Girls, the low-key, dependable actor returns as Dr. Alex Cross, in another try at a psycho thriller. Sadly, Freeman's the only point of interest in this one. Kiss the Girls was average at best -- Along Came A Spider should aspire to such heights.
Both films are based on James Patterson novels, where the good Doctor (detective, psychologist, author, hostage negotiator, model boat builder... good Lord) chases down some scary guy who's either a kidnapper, a murderer, or both. Here, our culprit is a teacher (Michael Wincott) at a D.C. prep school for kids that require Secret Service detail. He conducts his entire teaching career incognito, and then snatches the young daughter of a generic U.S. Congressman (Michael Moriarty).
One of the more vital secrets in a psychological mystery like this should be: Why is the madman doing this? By keeping this fact at bay, and perhaps even creating an inviting puzzle, a filmmaker can heighten tension and develop characters. First-time screenwriter Marc Moss and director Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors) decide that isn't really necessary. So, the result is a bad guy causing evil evidently because his parents weren't there for him. Now that's creative!
Moss' dialogue is no help. It's strictly cookie-cutter formula, made all the sillier by Jerry Goldsmith's overblown theme music. Both the script and the orchestra are supposed to make us raise our eyebrows in confusion or fright, but both are so self-consciously heavy, they do nothing but cause heavy sighing and snickering.
The screenplay does take on some requisite twists to be oh-so-surprising (taken from the novel, I imagine), but it's flat and derivative for most of the movie. Especially funny is an attempt at a cat-and-mouse scenario, where our criminal is making poor old Dr. Cross run from point to point in D.C., picking stray phones out of trash cans to get his next instruction. It's a carbon copy of a sequence in Ransom (among other films), and it leads to a loot drop-off clearly stolen from Kurosawa's High and Low. And Moss' idea of a scene transition is Dylan Baker closing every phone contact with the kidnapper by bellowing to police, "OK, people, let's move it!"
Freeman does the best he can with this stuff. He has an excellent knack for hitting a line in a unique way, maybe emphasizing a word that others wouldn't. He tries to seem interested, and keep the mood grave, but this one's just too silly.
Taking over the cutie-pie female role from Ashley Judd is Monica Potter as a dejected Secret Service agent that feels responsible for the kidnapping. She has a beautiful face but minimum acting chops, and between this and the horrific Head Over Heels, she's averaging about one bad movie per month.
So what's next for Dr. Alex Cross if this one takes off? Well, there are five other books, but the latest, First To Die, will become an NBC miniseries. Sounds more appropriate.
Subway driver, let's move!