(director/writer: Robert Schwentke; cinematographer: Jan Fehse; editor: Peter Przygodda; music: Christoph M. Kaiser; cast: August Diehl (Marc Schrader), Christian Redl (Police Detective Minks), Nadeshda Brennicke (Maya Kroner), Ilknur Bahadir (Meltem), Jasmin Schwiers (Marie Minks), Johan Leysen (Frank Schoubya), Joe Bausch (Norbert Günzel), Monica Bleibtreu (Kommissarin Roth), Ingo Naujoks (Stefan Kreiner), Florian Panzner (Poscher), Christiane Scheda (Lynn Wilson); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Verena Herfurth/Roman Kuhn/Jan Hinter; American Vitagraph; 2002-Germany-in German with English subtitles)

“It’s all as pointless as body modification.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Stylish “Se7en”-like Eurotrash thriller (though of a poorer quality than Fincher’s chiller) set in a rainy and gray Berlin that clamors for attention over its gimmicky plot line of a serial killer skinning his victims to sell their valuable Japanese tattoos by master tattoo artist Hiromitsu on the black market. First time writer/director Robert Schwentke (“Heaven!”/ “Flightplan”) shows some skill as a director by keeping it grimly atmospheric but flubs as a writer, as the film’s sketchy screenplay leads to too many trite conventional scenes and a ho-hum formulaic police procedural case of a testy seasoned vet teaming with a mismatched young rookie with a shaky past who smells the coffee at last when faced with the harsh realities of life and gets his act together by the third act. Schwentke asks you to sit through some gruesome grizzly scenes of bloodsplatter, a corny subplot of an estranged missing daughter and an unsatisfying contrived ending just to take in such an unpleasant and unaffecting story. It’s all so sleazy, exploitative, gloomy and derivative, but what’s even worse is that it’s all as pointless as body modification.

Recent unmotivated police cadet graduate Marc Schrader (August Diehl) spends his free time in his DJ girlfriend Meltem’s (Ilknur Bahadir) swinging club, where during a rave he’s caught doing drugs; when on police duty bad boy Schrader puts little effort into being a good cop and his bad attitude is explained away as a result of being raised after the death of his parents by his older brother who is in jail. The gruff Chief Inspector Minks (Christian Redl), of the homicide department, despite Schrader’s poor police record recruits him by blackmail to join his department or get suspended from the force for using drugs. It seems Minks is impressed that the arrogant and unimpressive Schrader because of his seedy mod lifestyle and connections with the rave crowd could come in handy in helping him to infiltrate the body art crew who are being staked out for victims. Schrader is immediately thrown into a bizarre murder case of the American expatriate Lynn Wilson who was drugged and in traffic her back was skinned for her tattoo and then her body was burned; but the feisty vic swallowed the finger of her killer and it’s discovered in her stomach. When the pair of cops learn through the finger prints the killer’s identity (Joe Bausch), they go to pick him up but before being taken in the killer takes Schrader’s gun and blows his brains out.

Minks is a savvy cop but a broken hearted man who has never been the same since his wife was killed by a hit-and-run driver and his teenage daughter Marie (Jasmin Schwiers) so resented his changed attitude that she ran away 2 years ago. Schrader, again because of his rave connections, is asked to find Marie by the hurt father and quickly does so, but promises her he won’t tell her dad. Soon we’re asked to believe Schrader becomes such a top sleuth that he’s the one that discovers the serial killer worked for tattoo collectors who valued the rare 12 tattoos Hiromitsu created from the periods of the 17th and 18th centuries and that there are collectors who would do anything to get those tattoos either voluntarily or by force. It leads to a trail of such strange characters as the following: the junkie Kreiner (Ingo Naujoks), who sells his valued skin tattoo for drugs; the sexy Maya Kroner (Nadeshda Brennicke), the ice cold blonde gallery owner who befriended Lynn Wilson in New York and has a full-body Hiromitsu tattoo and is asked by the police to be bait to trap the mysterious collector responsible for setting up these criminal deals; and, the shady lawyer Schoubya (Johan Leysen) who puts the unseen collector together with those willing to barter for their Hiromitsu tattoos. The problem for the police is those tattoo owners who do not voluntarily make a deal soon showing up flayed.

The raunchy film is geared to get under your skin, as a number of mutilated corpses keep turning up while the flawed cops battle their inner demons and become obsessed to solve this puzzling and bloody case that has deeply affected their psyche. It’s only moderately successful in how it’s presented and not a fun watch nor is it scary, it mostly pans out as a harsh look at a shady enterprise that takes place in Berlin’s ugly underground scene where soulless types frequent hipster clubs, do drugs and act amoral. When the dust settles, its final revelations only disclose what is obvious.