Director Sean Penn and star Jack Nicholson must have been drawn to the complexity of the haunted ex-detective character at the center of "The Pledge," because he's just about the only thing at all uncommon in this largely conventional serial killer suspense flick.

Although, even calling him uncommon is a stretch. Reno homicide dick Jerry Black is pretty much an assembly-line character -- a freshly retired cop obsessed with finding the "real killer" in an officially closed murder case that was his last assignment. Having made a promise to the parents of the dead little girl, he's still following hunches on his own time because nobody in the precinct believes him.

Doesn't Jerry sound like a regulation Morgan Freeman character? But with Nicholson in the role, he's a bit more of a wildcard. Big Jack brings an element of instability to Jerry that leaves the audience concerned for his sanity when his ostensive retirement finds him buying a gas station at a High Sierra crossroads as his nest egg because it's at the center of a geographic pattern he's discovered for his suspect.

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