There are two movies going on in “Murder by Numbers.” One is a fairly interesting thriller about two bored, privileged teens who plan a perfect murder because they have nothing else to do. The other is a generic crime flick about a police detective battling personal demons. In the end, the two films devour each other, and we are left with bland leftovers. It’s not pretty.
The teens are Justin Pendleton (Michael Pitt) and Richard Haywood (Ryan Gosling). Justin is quiet and forlorn and looks like he could be Leonardo DiCaprio’s younger sister. Richard is a major player at their northern California high school. Together, they have an ambiguous, secretive friendship, and with Justin’s brains and Richard’s looks, they add up to one Talented Mr. Ripley.
Through careful planning and manipulating, they commit a crime. Called upon to solve it is the protagonist in the second movie I referred to, one Cassie Mayweather (Sandra Bullock). She has a nickname — “The Hyena” — as well as a blustery boss, a loose-cannon reputation and a cloudy past. Just a few weeks ago, the cop parody “Showtime” joked that police detectives in movies always live someplace strange, like a houseboat. Cassie Mayweather lives in a houseboat. In other words, she is a factory-direct, fresh-off-the-line Movie Cop. (There’s even a scene where she lusts after Krispy Kreme Donuts.)
Cassie suffered some kind of trauma a while back, and now she dominates the men she works with — including when she’s seducing them, which she very quickly does to her partner, Sam (Ben Chaplin). Meanwhile, they investigate the murder and are puzzled by the apparent lack of clues.
Sandra Bullock has made a career out of making bad career choices. Look at her resume of bad movies: “Speed 2,” “Hope Floats,” “Gun Shy,” “Two If by Sea,” “28 Days.” Then there are the mediocre films: “Miss Congeniality,” “The Net.” Then there are the good ones: “Speed” and “A Time to Kill.” And those were in 1994 and 1996, respectively. The woman has clearly lost her mind, to keep appearing in moronic fare like “Murder by Numbers,” in which she plays the sort of tough-as-nails lady cop we like but are tired of seeing.
Ryan Gosling is a talented young actor, as demonstrated in last year’s Sundance success “The Believer.” His whining, mumbly delivery makes him look innocent when he’s guilty. Michael Pitt isn’t bad, either, as his partner in crime.
We know up front that Justin and Richard committed the murder; where, then, is the suspense? The psychological aspects of wealthy teens who turn to murder because they have nothing else to do are intriguing, but the film barely mentions them. It belongs to the genre of movies like “The Skulls” and “The In Crowd” — ridiculous trifles about murderous teens that are enjoyable to watch because they make so little sense and take themselves so seriously. But “Murder by Numbers” has delusions of grandeur. It thinks it is original and incisive, when really it’s the same warmed-over movie-of-the-week stuff we’ve been enduring for years.
C (; )