Murder By Numbers

Bottom line. How much you enjoy this movie depends upon how you feel about Sandra Bullock...

"Murder by Numbers" is a Sandra Bullock showcase that has all the window dressings of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. A spooky abandoned house on the edge of a precipitous cliff. The Pacific Ocean boiling like a cauldron below. A law enforcement officer haunted by her past -- think Jimmy Stewart in "Vertigo," then digitize in Bullock.

And while you're in the special effects room don't forget to edit in the two socially maladjusted young men who are right off the pages of Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" -- though they're both a whole lot smarter.

Ryan Gosling (playing smarmy Richard Haywood) bears a striking resemblance to James Dean. And Michael Pitt (playing the analytically cruel Justin) could perform as a stand-in for Leonardo DiCaprio. Both are continually doing head-games on each other as well as on their stressed-out nemesis, FBI agent Cassie Mayweather (Sandra Bullock).

"Murder By Numbers" will keep you in suspense, not about who done it -- you already know -- but about whether or not the troubled Bullock can keep her own wounded psyche together long enough to psych-out the two loner teeners, who are logic-smart, but emotionally detached killers.

Bottom line. How much you enjoy this movie depends upon how you feel about Sandra Bullock. She's tough and vulnerable, but she isn't able (as an actress) to fully open up the complexities of her character that lie beneath her professional-agent's surface.

Bullock does, however, evoke admiring "right-ons" from audiences who love her take-no-prisoner-attitude to abusive, domineering men. She does numbers on her current partner, her frustrated superiors, and of course, the two young killers she's determined to outsmart. Whoever wronged her in the past did her current lovers and associates no favors.

Nobody makes slicker movies than Hollywood, but their mainstream multiplex specials more often resemble paint-by-number caricatures than they do fully developed masterpieces.

"Murder by Numbers" is no exception. It's smart, it's glossy, and its pacing is fast and furious. Which would make you think its director was one of those many hot "wunderkinds" who learned their trade producing music videos for MTV.

But surprise, surprise.

"Murder by Numbers" was directed by Barbet Schroeder. No traditional Hollywood assembly line sausage maker, he. A film critic for the French film magazine "Cahiers du Cinema" -- whose stable of writers included Jean-Luc Godard and Fran?ois Truffaut -- Schroeder also studied philosophy at the Sorbonne and produced some of the earliest films of one of my favorite directors, Erich Rohmer.

Go figure.