(director/writer: John Lee Hancock; cinematographer: John Schwartzman; editor: Robert Frazen; music: Thomas Newman; cast: Denzel Washington (Joe ‘Deke’ Deacon), Rami Malek (Jim Baxter), Jared Leto (Albert Sparma),  Chris Bauer (Det. Sal Rizoli), Michael Hyatt (Flo Dunigan), Terry Kinney (LASD Captain Carl Farris), Natalie Morales (Det. Jamie Estrada), Isabel Arraiza (Ana Baxter), Joris Jarsky (Det. Sgt. Rogers), Glenn Morshower (Capt Henry Davis), Sofia Vassilieva (Tina Salvatore); Runtime: 128; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Mark Johnson, John Lee Hancock; Warner Bros., HBO Max; 2021)

Though the cast is top-notch, the script isn’t.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Another formulaic serial killer police thriller, though this one tries to be a little different. It’s written and directed by John Lee Hancock (“The Blind Side”/”The Founder”), the former writer for Clint Eastwood’s A Perfect World and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. We’ve seen its story before in numerous other thrillers. It was done best in the 1995 David Fincher “Se7en.”  Though the cast is top-notch, the script isn’t. For most films that’s a recipe for failure, as it’s here.

The macho film is set in 1990 (the year Hancock wrote the screenplay), in Los Angeles, where a number of women have been brutally killed by a serial killer on the loose. The latest being a teenage girl.

Deke Deacon (Denzel Washington) is the aging and world-weary deputy sheriff, once a legendary L.A. cop (a master at profiling serial killers) but after one bum case and heart surgery, is now a behind the desk cop. Deke relocated to Bakersfield, California, opting for the quiet life in the sticks when things soured for him in the big city. He’s sent by his boss to L.A. to assist in gathering evidence for the unsolved murder of the teen girl, and reluctantly goes. He reunites with fellow detectives he served with when in Los Angeles, such as his pal Sergeant Sal Rizoli (Chris Bauer) and also the medical examiner (Michael Hyatt). But from others, like the hostile police captain (Glenn Morshower), he is not warmly received.

The young hotshot with swag, Jimmy Baxter (Rami Malek), is the ambitious lead investigator on the recent murder case. Since this crime reminds Deke of the now cold serial killer case some five years ago that changed his life, he sticks around to help even if Baxter isn’t too pleased until Deke examines in the lab a pair of bloody boots found at the crime scene and finds this to be an invaluable clue.

The film is more interested in telling us about the cops and how their job takes a heavy toll on them mentally, rather than about the bad guy.

Clues lead the detectives to the prime suspect, a preening sicko handyman/repairman, going for the Charles Manson look, Albert Sparma (Jared Leto). He maintains his innocence and enjoys playing mind games with the cops to show their incompetence. He especially enjoys rattling the chains of the film’s obsessive flawed hero, who is wrestling with guilt feelings.

In the final act, one packed with twists, all the little things (the details, the things the deputy tells Baxter are what linger with you and leave you troubled even when away from work) come together and the film concludes with an ambiguous ending, one that shouldn’t please all viewers. But Denzel’s presence holds the film together and even if it’s not a particularly good film, it’s certainly watchable.

REVIEWED ON 5/18/2021  GRADE: C +