Movie Reviews
3:29 pm
Wed August 25, 2004

Suspect Zero

Just another serial killer thriller.

The difference might be that Anthony Hopkins wants to be called "Tony," while Ben Kingsley demands to be called "Sir." Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter in "Silence of the Lambs" defined forever the serial killer as witty, charming, and lethal; Kingsley's Benjamin O'Ryan in "Suspect Zero" is none of those but seems to wannabe. Lecter doesn't need to seek respect; O'Ryan wants it badly.

"Zero" is not zero: It has moments of intelligence such as its twist, which is more like soft pretzel than a neck-breaking turn (Think of "Crying Game's" shocker as the apex). Although the Southwest American landscapes are well chosen for the bleak serial murders, E. Elias Merhige ("Shadow of the Vampire") directs without the subtle moodiness of his "Vampire": He overuses the intimate close-up and quirky angle to create a tension that Jonathan Demme did by keeping his camera at a distance from Lecter, much as we wanted to be out of fear and respect.

Aaron Eckhart plays FBI agent Thomas Mackelway, who has been demoted to the Albuquerque branch because of breaking the rules. He pursues O'Ryan while O'Ryan pursues him, and it's satisfying when these two fine actors interact, although too late in the film to save it from being just another serial killer thriller with gruesome illustrations on the bulletin board, maps to show a pattern, and, of course, messages from the suspected killer to draw Mackelway, shown in various stages of distress, to the murder sites.

What makes other thriller films such and "Usual Suspects" and "Memento" more successful is a combination of originality and intellectual interest, with a killer who engages our disgust and respect. "Suspect Zero" doesn't quite measure up, but Oscar-winning Kingsley gives it moments of intensity (Think of his unforgettable stare in "House of Sand and Fog") to make an enjoyable if forgettable film.