Saturday, November 16, 2013

Review: "Suspect Zero" is Not All it Can Be (Happy B'day, Henry Lennix)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 171 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

Suspect Zero (2004)
Running time:  100 minutes (1 hour, 40 minutes)
MPAA – R for violent content, language, and some nudity
DIRECTOR:  E. Elias Merhige
WRITERS:  Zak Penn and Billy Ray; from a story by Zak Penn
PRODUCERS:  Paula Wagner, Gaye Hirsch, and E. Elias Merhige
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Michael Chapman, ASC (D.o.P.)
EDITORS:  John Gilroy and Robert K. Lambert, A.C.E.
COMPOSER:  Clint Mansell

CRIME/MYSTERY/THRILLER with elements of horror and sci-fi

Starring:  Aaron Eckhart, Ben Kingsley, Carrie-Anne Moss, Harry Lennix, Kevin Chamberlain, Julian Reyes, Keith Campbell, William Mapother, and Buddy Joe Hooker

The subject of this movie review is Suspect Zero, a 2004 crime thriller starring Aaron Eckhart and Ben Kingsley.  The film focuses on two characters, a mysterious serial killer who is hunting other serial killers and an FBI agent who suspects there may be more to this unusual vigilante than anyone can imagine.

A traveling salesman is found dead in his car just across the Arizona/New Mexico state line, and the killer performed some kind of ritual on the victim’s body.  The FBI and police wonder if there are others.  A second murder victim, a sixth-grade teacher from Boulder, Colorado, is found bound and gagged in the trunk of the car.  His killer also marked his body, so the police wonder if the two murders are connected.

FBI Agent Thomas Mackelway (Aaron Eckhart) isn’t sure, but he knows that the third murder is a personal message from the killer to him.  The victim is Raymond Starkey (Keith Campbell), a rapist/murder who escaped justice after Mackelway illegally goes to Mexico and does his Dirty-Harry-doesn’t-have-to-follow-the-rules routine that gets his case thrown out and lets Mackelway slip from the crack of Lady Justice’s butt cheeks.

Before long Agent Mackelway believes that the murderer is a man named Benjamin O’Ryan (Sir Ben Kingsley), and O’Ryan is either taunting him or helping him.  Mackelway’s past comes back to haunt him in the form of his ex-partner FBI Agent Fran Kulok (Carrie-Anne Moss).  He’ll need her to support him as the pressure mounts, and mysterious images…or could they be messages start to blossom in his mind as he tries to solve the riddle of Ryan and the next killer Ryan is hunting, the ultimate serial killer, Suspect Zero.

If, as the saying goes, the devil is in the details, it’s those devilish details that keep the mystery thriller, Suspect Zero, from becoming a great mystery thriller, but as the film is, it’s a damn good mystery thriller when all is said and done.  The film’s lone problem is its biggest, the slightly-more-than-paper-thin characters.  The character we get the most information about is Eckhart’s Mackelway, enough to find his plight and mission intriguing.  The script doesn’t give us enough to really enjoy and embrace him, and he’s the good guy, an enjoyable, embraceable kind of guy.  However, concerning Mackelway’s colleagues and the rest of the cast, we get next to nothing, just enough about them to move the plot.  There’s so little chemistry between Eckhart’s Mackelway and Ms. Moss’ Fran Kulok that if the filmmakers had replaced Kulok with a gay lover we still wouldn’t notice the character.

While the plot is the film’s strongpoint, the script isn’t.  It’s more or less a vehicle to move along genre conventions and to move the movie from one mystery, one murder, or one scary moment to the next.  It seems as if writer Zak Penn’s original script that he finished in 1997 was really a novel.  Screenwriter Billy Ray’s revisions tried to bring the novel back down to being a movie that runs just under two hours at the cost of characterization.  Luckily, both writers have made a career of composing actions and thrills for film so the missteps still make for a riveting movie.

When all is said and done and we look past the warts and all, Suspect Zero is not bad or great, but pretty good.  If you don’t mind the intense concentration this film’s oblique concepts and storytelling requires of you, and you accept that this is one of those times when you just can’t sit back and not think, then Suspect Zero will rock your recliner even if it doesn’t rock your world.

6 of 10

Updated: Saturday, November 16, 2013

The text is copyright © 2013 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.


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