Suspect Zero Movie Review

Here we go again with another brooding-cop-vs.-serial-killer cat-and-mouse thriller. So what makes "Suspect Zero" any different from "Taking Lives, " "Twisted," "Murder By Numbers," "Along Came a Spider," "The Watcher," "The Bone Collector," "Kiss the Girls, "Copycat,", "Se7en," etc., etc.?

Well, just enough to keep it interesting -- but not enough to make it memorable.

The story this time: Having recently botched a case in which a killer was set free on a technicality, FBI agent Tom Mackelway (Aaron Eckhart) has been banished to the backwaters of Albuquerque -- but it seems another killer has followed him there. Within days of his arrival, two bodies turn up with their eyelids cut off, the handiwork of a nutcase named Benjamin O'Ryan (Ben Kingsley) who keeps leaving taunting clues addressed to our hero.

But the reason he does so gives this film a somewhat novel layer of twists: O'Ryan claims to be a former FBI agent, part of a secret psy-ops project, that allows him not only to recognize Mackelway as a kindred spirit -- both suffer from headaches and cloudy psychic visions of terrible crime scenes -- but also to hone his clairvoyant gift into a weapon of sorts. He uses it to pick his victims for one very specific reason that takes "Suspect Zero" in an unexpected direction.

Director E. Elias Merhige (best known for the inspired silent-horror homage "Shadow of the Vampire") makes stylistic use of this psychic element to give the movie an unnerving and extra-cryptic edge, drawing out the suspense slowly, like the eerie back-and-forth bowing of a long sharp chord on a cello.

As Mackelway fervently follows his instincts -- often to the frustration of his predictably disbelieving new boss -- seemingly unrelated plot elements and puzzling evidence congeal into a bigger picture that does, eventually, carve the film a uniquely uncanny genre niche. But other movements in this symphony of suspense are far-fetched, overly familiar, or unfortunately flat.

Mackelway is soon partnered with an ex-girlfriend agent (Carrie-Anne Moss) from a rocky relationship that neither one of them has gotten over. Kingsley is adequately creepy, but Eckhart -- who has given many charismatic performances in the past ("In The Company of Men," "Erin Brockovich," "Possession") -- is so dry in his starring role that it's difficult to empathize with his psychological tribulations.

And while Merhige, and screenwriters Zak Penn ("X-Men 2") and Billy Ray ("Shattered Glass"), do not rely on a shopworn whodunit-style finale, they do require Mackelway to make an entirely irrational mistake in order to bring about the picture's disappointingly stock climax.

With Mirhige's cinematic resourcefulness (to create the shadowy, video-snow imagery of Mackelway's visions he uses old Fisher-Price Pixelvision cameras) "Suspect Zero" is enough of a departure from genre routine to keep thriller-savvy film watchers engaged. But it's not enough of a departure to leave a lasting impression.


Comments

Suspect Zero Rating

" Weak "

Rating: R, WIDE: Friday, August 27, 2004

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