Murder by Numbers Movie Review

Since her "breakthrough" performance in the Sylvester Stallone action vehicle Demolition Man, I've never much liked Sandra Bullock or her selection of films. My initial reaction to the previews of Murder by Numbers was a laughing fit. But I ventured into the theater not based upon the marquee name of Bullock, but by the crew behind the camera - renowned director Barbet Schroeder, cinematographer Luciano Tovoli, composer Clint Mansell, and screenwriter Tony Gayton (who wrote the solid, upcoming film The Salton Sea). In the end, I didn't know who to blame for this awkward and schlock-filled "serial killer" flick, which is about as enjoyable as watching that new Andy Richter TV show.

Bullock plays hard-nosed, seasoned homicide detective Cassie Mayweather, who has more issues than four of my ex-girlfriends combined. After a young woman is found dead in her district, Cassie and her new partner Sam Kennedy (Ben Chaplin) take the case and discover conflicting evidence. Using techniques she must have picked up by watching CSI, Cassie's intrepid sleuthing leads her to cocky high school student Richard Haywood (Ryan Gosling, who eerily resembles a Muppet), who owns a unique pair of boots linked to the crime scene but were stolen weeks before the crime. Richard's airtight alibi and carefree nature only confounds Cassie's intrepid sleuthing skills and brings to surface memories of a tragic event in Cassie's life, involving a bitter husband and 17 stab wounds.

But she perseveres through unimaginable detective skills and develops a theory that Richard and his secret high school buddy Justin Pendleton (Michael Pitt) committed the crime together. But the suits step in because Richard's from an influential family, and Cassie ends up alienates her partner with her relentless pursuit of these two Leopold and Loeb knockoffs. Will Cassie bring the real killers to justice? Can the Barbet Schroeder employ more than three standard camera angles in the film? Why is a crazed baboon living in Chris Penn's garage? The suspense was killing me, just as it must be killing you, reading this review.

The entire production feels like a bad TV movie playing on The Lifetime Channel and intended for bored housewives. The abandoned house, which conveniently hangs on the edge of a cliff, where the two boys convene and talk of murder and other boyish fantasies is filled with sub-par blue screen and CG shots. Bullock's tepid effort to project a tortured character, somehow encouraging us to find empathy with her, is ridiculous. Even the script is riddled with cheesy soap opera dialogue, probably rewritten by Bullock while in the bathtub. If this story interests you at all, simply check out Larry Clark's Bully (which also happens to be true).

Murder By Numbers is reminiscent of a slew of recent, bad Hollywood murder mysteries like Along Came a Spider, Kiss the Girls, Hannibal, and The Bone Collector, with their witty killers, emotionally abused detectives, and their classic battle between good and evil - invariably ending with someone meeting his death off a windy bluff, convenient roof, or subway tunnel. Avoid this film at all costs.

The only DVD extra is a pretty staid commentary with Schroeder and his editor. Lots of "this is a crazy camera movement" talk about locations and dull "this is what's happening in the plot right now" chitchat. Skippable in full.

Cadavers for lunch again?


Murder by Numbers Rating

" Unbearable "

Rating: R, 2002


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