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"Suspect Zero" Movie Review

"Zero" Equals Zero Thrills

By

Aaron Eckhart Kingsley Suspect Zero

Aaron Eckhart and Sir Ben Kingsley in "Suspect Zero"

© Paramount Pictures
"Suspect Zero" throws in every serial killer movie cliché, every detective in trouble versus cunning criminal been-there-done-that plot twist possible, and ultimately winds up being indistinguishable from a dozen or so other cop vs. killer subgenre movies.

Aaron Eckhart stars as FBI Agent Thomas Mackelway. He's been demoted from the big Texas FBI office to a second-rate satellite office in Albuquerque, suffers from chronic headaches, has a sordid background with the FBI, and seems generally out of place in the small New Mexico office. With no time to settle in to his new position, Mackelway’s quickly drawn into a bizarre series of murders, all of which seem to be connected in some mysterious way. Right off the bat, the biggies at the FBI’s Texas office seem to think Mackelway needs some help in solving the crimes so they send him Fran Kulok (Carrie-Anne Moss), an agent he’s worked with and had a romantic relationship with in the past.

Even though Mackelway’s new boss in Albuquerque seems nice enough, Mackelway chooses not to involve him or the other local agents in his search for this serial killer. He flies all over the country, gets tons of clues faxed to him personally, and basically drives himself crazy trying to figure out this case – all without involving any of his FBI cohorts or using any of the FBI’s vast resources. The only agent allowed into his personal search for the killer is Fran Kulok, and she’s basically just there as window dressing and a shoulder to cry on as the case gets under his skin.

The killer appears to be Benjamin O'Ryan (Ben Kingsley), a man who claims he was an FBI Agent and seems to be able to see things in distant places as they are happening. O’Ryan sends Mackelway clues to the cases, and Mackelway must determine which side O’Ryan’s on while learning the two have much more in common than their obsession with serial killers.

“Suspect Zero” uses grainy shots, irritating close-ups, and repetitive scenes of eyelid-less victims to try and engage the audience. And while the premise was intriguing, the film itself was a huge letdown. “Suspect Zero” involves a supposed FBI training technique called ‘remote viewing’ that allows an agent to sketch out details of a murder while in a trance-like state. Kingsley’s shown sitting alone in a room drawing pictures of victims and crime scenes. That’s fairly interesting, but everything else about the plot gets all muddled up. There’s very little action – in fact, there’s only one real action scene in the whole film – which means the characters have to be engaging enough to hold your interest. Because their actions and motivations seem to change without reason from scene to scene, you’re left not caring about any of these people. Weird little subplots pop in and out of the picture (like the love story between Mackelway and Kulok), scenes aren’t connected with any coherent storyline, and the tension doesn’t build to a large enough crescendo to make this even a slightly clever thriller.

Aaron Eckhart is better than this role. His past films haven’t always been brilliant (“The Core,” “Paycheck”), yet there’s something in the guy that stands out, no matter the poor choice of material (am I the only one who thinks he and Thomas Jane are interchangeable?). In “Suspect Zero,” he tries to force some life into a character that’s flat-lined. It doesn’t work, but then not much in this movie does. The dumb romantic relationship between Eckhart and Moss’ characters doesn’t amount to anything. There’s no reason to include it in the storyline other than it gives Moss a small opportunity to show she’s not a cardboard cut-out replacing a real, live actor. Moss’ got the toughest acting job of the film in that her character is an unnecessary side note. There’s nothing appealing about the character, nothing realistic about her actions, and Moss’ portrayal of Mackelway’s ex-love is rigid and unconvincing. Sir Ben Kingsley’s good at chewing up the scenery, but even Kingsley can’t seem to find the right take on his character.

I’m always up for a good serial killer movie and in most cases, I’m always disappointed with what the studios have churned out. A quick glance at my bookshelves and you’ll see a collection of horror mixed with true crime/serial killer books. There are dozens of good stories to be told based on true killers, yet the studios seem to think all we want to see is a rehash of the same old same old. Enough already. We’ve seen as many “Se7en” / “Silence of the Lambs” imitators as we can take. The boiling point has been reached and it’s time to move on. Imitations beg comparisons to the original, and these recycled takes on decent thrillers feature performances that can’t stand up to the inevitable Kevin Spacey and Sir Anthony Hopkins comparisons.

GRADE: C-

"Suspect Zero" was directed by E. Elias Merhige and is rated R for violent content, language and some nudity.

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