Suspect Zero

2004, Movie, R, 99 mins

Review

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It's not easy to make a thriller that's both incredibly convoluted and intensely boring, but director E. Elias Merhige scores on both counts with this lame excuse for a spooky crime story. When disgraced FBI agent Thomas Mackelway (Aaron Eckhart) arrives at his new post in Albuquerque, he expects to spend the rest of his career shuffling paper around his tiny desk. On his first day, however, he finds himself back in the field investigating the brutal murder of a traveling salesman. It turns out to be the first in a series of killings, all linked by the strange markings carved into the corpses. When the third victim turns out to be a person Mackelway knows, he realizes that someone is trying to send him a message. Throwing himself into the case, a startling pattern emerges: All of the victims were serial killers themselves. This realization puts Mackelway onto the trail of Benjamin O'Ryan (Ben Kingsley), a former agent who took part in a secret government program that taught participants how to "see" into the minds of killers using a technique known as "remote viewing." The project was shut down many years ago, but O'Ryan continues to operate in secret, tracking down murderers with his mind and stopping them before they can strike again. For reasons that are never really made clear, he has chosen to reveal his existence to Mackelway, leading the increasingly frenzied agent and his partner, Fran Kulok (Carrie-Anne Moss), on a cross-country chase. Eventually Mackelway comes face to face with his quarry, but before he can get any answers, they have to join forces to track down O'Ryan's latest target: a truck driver who's been kidnapping children from all over the Southwest. The film plays by its own rules in the logic department and trying to keep up with all its perplexing twists and turns gets exhausting very quickly; it's almost as if the screenwriters themselves aren't certain what the story is about. Seemingly important plot threads disappear and reappear at random, while the ending is confused at best. A stronger director might have been able to hide the narrative gaps behind compelling visuals — just as Michael Mann does in COLLATERAL (2004) — but Merhige doesn't demonstrate a solid grasp of this material. Instead, he mainly borrows from other sources, most notably the gritty, blown-out look of SE7EN (1995). All three actors go through the motions with little enthusiasm; Moss in particular has a hard time masking her boredom as the movie careens along to its incomprehensible conclusion. She can take heart in knowing that the audience feels the same way. leave a comment --Ethan Alter

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