SUSPECT ZERO (director: E. Elias Merhige; screenwriters: from a story by Zak Penn/Mr. Penn/Billy Ray; cinematographer: Michael Chapman; editors: John Gilroy/Robert K. Lambert; music: Clint Mansell; cast: Aaron Eckhart (Thomas Mackelway), Ben Kingsley (Benjamin O’Ryan), Carrie-Anne Moss (Fran Kulok), Harry Lennix (Rick Charleton), Kevin Chamberlin (Harold Speck), Julian Reyes (Highway Patrolman), Nicole DeHuff (Katie Potter), Chloe Russell (Loretta), Ellen Blake (Dolly), William Mapother (Bill Grieves), William B. Johnson (Mel), Jerry Gardner (Sheriff Harry Dylan), Brady Coleman (Dyson); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Gaye Hirsch/Paula Wagner/E. Elias Merhige; Paramount; 2004)
“The film tries to be a follow-up to Seven but instead throws down a big Zero.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Director E. Elias Merhige (“Begotten”/”Shadow of the Vampire”) has undeniable skills in making a film look pretty (thanks in a large part to cinematographer Michael Chapman), but in this mainstream film (his others were cultish indies) he can’t get around to telling a good story–or at least sticking with his main story without wandering off the reservation. His filmmaking in Suspect Zero loses itself in poor pacing, an inability to make things clear, plot devices that are illogical, a heavy reliance on genre clichés and a ludicrous ending and rational for the film that makes the entire project suspect. In Suspect Zero, a serial-killer with the power of “remote viewing” hunts down serial killers — ridding society of its unwanted trash in a one-man crusade. But that novel twist is overwhelmed with the familiar trite genre connections such as there is a thin line that separates the cop from the killer, there’s a boss who doesn’t believe his unorthodox agent could be right about what he suspects, and that the tortured agent dedicates his whole life in redeeming himself by getting the serial-killer. We’ve seen all this many times before, and often with better results. The film tries to be a follow-up to Seven but instead throws down a big Zero.
“The Silence of the Lambs” set the high bar for the serial killer genre, and in recent times both the movie and cable TV market have been swamped with serial-killer thrillers that mostly range from so-so ventures to duds. This one falls into the mediocre bracket even though Zak Penn and Billy Ray supply a substantial screenplay. But Merhige drives its novel aim back into the usual fold and wastes a talented cast in a good looking B-movie but with little else to show.
Disgraced FBI Agent Thomas Mackleway (Aaron Eckhart) is transferred from Dallas to a remote outpost in Albuquerque after being suspended for six-months as punishment for botching an assignment, which ultimately led to the release of a notorious sex pervert because of civil rights violations. As soon as Tom greets his uptight boss (Harry Lennix) and fritter eating new colleagues there’s a brutal murder with the body positioned across the Arizona/New Mexico border, with enough clues around the crime scene to have even a police department in the boonies crack the case. Tom has already received faxes from Benjamin O’Ryan (Ben Kingsley), addressed only for his eyes, that warn him that the traveling salesman he killed, Harold Speck (Kevin Chamberlin), was a serial-killer. Ben poses as a former FBI agent, but when checked-out this can’t be verified–only that he’s a transient with mental problems.
Warning: spoiler in next paragraph.
The FBI sends Fran Kulok (Carrie-Anne Moss), an agent familiar to Tom from their Dallas days together, to be his reluctant partner on this case. Soon another brutal murder turns up with the vic again a serial-killer and Ben is again responsible for his death. We soon learn that Ben was involved with a project called Icarus, where he was trained to do “remote viewing” with a select few other FBI agents who had that rare natural gift. Now Ben is at the cracking point because he envisions so much violence and can’t take it any more. But before he departs he wants to catch a criminal he’s obsessed with nabbing, whom he has dubbed “suspect zero,” and somehow needs Tom’s help to catch this trucker in an 18-wheeler who travels cross-country snatching children and keeping them locked up in his refrigerated rig.
Ben Kingsley gives a creepy but not a memorable art-house performance of a lunatic with more tics than a mainstream serial-killer usually is allowed to have. Aaron Eckhart tries hard to show he’s bothered by the same nightmarish headaches and visions as Kingsley (the two are linked by their ability to see crime scenes even if they are not there), but his character is never made interesting. Carrie-Anne Moss has an underwritten part and looks bored despite her effort not to look bored. This film would indicate it’s time that the studios took a break from this genre until they come up with some new ideas or, at least, a different way of telling the serial-killer tale. The film has more in common with the run-of-the-mill TV cop shows than it should.
REVIEWED ON 9/1/2004 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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