Eric D. Snider

Suspect Zero

"Suspect Zero" has two good ideas, and it squanders them both. First it asks: What if there were a serial killer who followed no pattern whatsoever and thereby avoided detection? He could go on killing for years and never be caught, for without a pattern, the cops wouldn't even know they were dealing with a serial killer. They'd think they just had a series of unrelated murders.

Second, the film asks: What if there were a person who experienced "remote vision," where he could see things without actually being there? Why, this sort of supernatural power, harnessed for good, could solve all sorts of crimes.

The problem is that both good ideas are used in the same film, and the second one takes the zest out of the first one. (A serial killer who follows no pattern? No problem! We have this remote-vision guy who's seen him commit the crimes!) The movie, directed with abrasive style-over-substance bombast by E. Elias Merhige ("Shadow of the Vampire"), doesn't know where to focus. On this "suspect zero" who leaves no trail? On the guy with a psychic connection? On the disgraced FBI agent's boring backstory? Where, movie? WHERE?!

Aaron Eckhart, whose face grows larger with each passing year, plays Thomas Mackelway, an FBI agent who screwed up something back in Dallas and has thus been sent to "the minors": the Bureau's Albuquerque field office. (To emphasize Albuquerque's B-list status, Mackelway asks, "Is there a Starbucks?," to which his new co-worker replies, "That's a joke, right?" But I used to live in Provo, Utah, where literally 95 percent of the residents belong to a religion that prohibits the consumption of coffee, and even WE had a Starbucks. So I looked on the Internet and sure enough, there are eight Starbuckses in Albuquerque, including one about 10 blocks from the FBI field office. Yeah, I have a lot of time on my hands, but yeah, don't make a joke about a city not having something that everyone knows ALL cities have. I'm just sayin'.)

Anyway, Mackelway is soon joined by Fran Kulok (Carrie-Anne Moss), a colleague from Dallas who got some of the stank from Mackelway's misdeeds on her -- but that whole thing is so underdeveloped, it's hardly worth mentioning, except as an example of how underdeveloped the movie is.

ANYWAY, Mackelway starts getting weird faxes from someone named Benjamin O'Ryan (Ben Kingsley), whom we have already seen commit a murder. Simultaneously, O'Ryan is shown having odd episodes wherein he writes down series of numbers while hearing voices. We don't know what it all means, but in the meantime, the bodies are piling up, Mackelway is haunted by his past, the boss keeps complaining that he's a loose cannon and a maverick, and of course it all ends with two men fighting each other next to a cliff. Sigh.

Aaron Eckhart and Carrie-Anne Moss do more or less what you'd expect them to do in a situation like this, i.e., they act all intense and serious and secretly hope the movie turns out better than they suspect it will.

And Ben Kingsley: "Gandhi" was a long time ago, wasn't it? A very, very long time ago. He does an American accent in this film, but only sort of, and only occasionally. He sounds like a strangled Irishman. But he commits to his strangled Irishness admirably -- dedicated work from a great actor, always a professional no matter how senseless the material.

Zak Penn's script is said to have circulated through Hollywood for several years before finally getting made, and I wonder how much damage was done to it in the process. It has a few clear-cut ideas that are garbled in the execution; maybe they were better on paper. Of course, Zak Penn also wrote "Inspector Gadget" (1999), so maybe this is how "Suspect Zero" was supposed to turn out in the first place.

Grade: C-

Rated R, some F-words, some gruesome images, some brief partial nudity

1 hr., 35 min.

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