Along Came a Spider

“Along Came a Spider” is based on the first book in James Patterson’s Alex Cross series. “Kiss the Girls,” which came out four years ago, was based on the second book. I don’t know why the second book was made into a movie first, except that it’s a better story than its predecessor.

The new movie, which stars Morgan Freeman again as police detective Alex Cross, borrows liberally from “Dirty Harry,” “Ransom,” and every police drama ever made. In fact, there is little in the first 75 minutes that would distinguish it from being a regular weekly episode of some TV cop show.

It begins auspiciously enough, with Cross’s partner helping to trap a killer by going undercover. The plan goes awry, ending in a terrifically exciting car crash that kills both the murderer and the cop.

The film heads downward there and never really comes up again, as Cross is saddled with guilt for letting his partner die. If there’s a more shop-worn movie cliche than that, it would have to be the one where the cops look at an old piece of evidence they’ve already looked at a thousand times and finally notice the tiny clue that brings it all together for them — and that’s in here, too.

It’s worth noting that neither of these cliches is even done very well. Cross feels guilty and is comforted by his wife in one scene — and then we literally never see her again, and his guilt is hardly addressed. And the evidence they look at is one we’re TOLD they’ve looked at a lot before, but it’s the first time WE’VE seen it. It’s like they were rushing through the cliches so they could get to some more cliches.

Cross is brought out of his self-imposed exile when a senator’s daughter, Megan Rose (Mika Boorem), is kidnapped from her School for Diplomats’ Kids, right under the noses of the Secret Service. Agent Jezzie Flannigan (Monica Potter) was on duty, and she feels just awful about it, which makes her and Cross kindred spirits. They work together when the kidnapper (Michael Wincott) leaves a piece of evidence in Cross’s mailbox.

Why does he want Cross on the case? Because movie bad guys always have personal agendas like that. Also, he knows Cross is a well-respected criminal profiler. This guy wants his 15 minutes of fame, and he hopes Cross will be his biographer in the annals of crime history.

The plot twists come in the final 30 minutes, and while they are entertaining, they’re also ludicrous. One begins to wish the movie had stuck with its original plan of just being a mediocre cop thriller, rather than changing into something quasi-clever.

Morgan Freeman is a classy actor, and his presence alone saves “Along Came a Spider” from being utterly worthless. He works a lot, and no matter how many medium-grade movies the guy is in, he never comes off as a hack who will appear in anything. He’s always cool and always above whatever nonsense is going on around him. I like him.

Monica Potter, on the other hand, is stone-faced and one-note. Her last two vehicles were a Freddie Prinze, Jr. movie and “Patch Adams.” At least she’s in good company this time around, even if the movie is unimaginative and makes only cursory attempts at characterization or motives.

C (; R, three or four scattered profanities, some violence.)