Suspect Zero (2004) / Thriller-Horror

MPAA Rated: R for violence, gore, language and some nudity
Running Time: 99 min.

Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Ben Kingsley, Carrie-Anne Moss, Harry Lennix, Kevin Chamberlin, Keith Campbell
Director: E. Elias Merhige
Screenplay: Zak Penn, Billy Ray
Review published September 6, 2004

Suspect Zero Aaron Eckhart 2994Suspect Zero isn't really a bad movie per se, it just happens to have come along a few years too late to be at least passable entertainment. With The Silence of the Lambs, Se7en, and all of the clones that have followed, Suspect Zero fails to stand out, feeling every bit as commonplace and redundant as you'd expect from a late summer release. It's just another grisly cat-and-mouse thriller where the good guy is the flip side of the same coin as the bad guy, and while they try to outdo each other, they each have a mutual respect for one another's skills. A few nifty twists are thrown in, but not nearly smart enough to pull this one from the quagmire of its own derivativeness.

Fresh back from suspension for brutality and civil rights infringement against a murder suspect, FBI agent Thomas Mackelway (Eckhart, The Core) finds himself demoted and relocated to New Mexico. He is sent in to investigate a gruesome murder of a traveling salesman, who has his eyelids cut out and a calling card of a circle with a slash through it left at the scene. With a couple more similar murders take place in other parts of the country, an obvious serial killer is on the loose, and the strange clues and personal messages indicate that the killer, who is ostensibly a former FBI agent named O'Ryan (Kingsley, Sneakers) either toying with Mackelway or trying to point him to something much bigger.

Suspect Zero is directed by E. Elias Merhige, who directed the stylish but not very exciting cult click, Shadow of the Vampire. As a director, Merhige does keep the proceedings looking sharp and in tune with the subject matter. He's let down by the lack of a really good script to accompany his visual flair, and also a lack of real chemistry among the cast.

It's kind of creepy, and it does arrest the attention, until a weak ending dissolves any doubt in almost everyone's mind as to whether this is a good movie or not. Just a word to all future filmmakers interested in this subject matter -- If you're going to play around in the dark and gory serial killer genre started by Silence of the Lambs, try to make your film have a style of its own, instead of copying even bad imitations. The title alone should tell you how much originality you'd suspect could from a dog-tired script and copycat directorial jump-cut visions evoking the memory older and better films.

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo