The Bone Collector
Rating -

Thriller (US); 1999; Rated R; 118 Minutes

Denzel Washington: Lincoln Rhyme
Angelina Jolie: Amelia Donaghy
Queen Latifah: Thelma
Michael Rooker: Capt. Howard Cheney
Mike McGlone: Det. Kenny Solomon
Luis Guzmán: Eddie Ortiz
Leland Orser: Richard Thompson
John Benjamin Hickey: Dr. Barry Lehman
Bobby Cannavale: Steve
Ed O'Neill: Det. Paulie Sellitto

Produced by Martin Bregman, Michael Scott Bregman, Bo Dietl, Dan Jinks, Michael Klawitter and Louis A. Stroller; Directed by Phillip Noyce; Screenwritten by Jeremy Iacone; based on the novel by Jeffery Deaver

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Written by DAVID KEYES

Most serial killer movies have an excuse for being odd--people who kill other human beings tend to make the scenario more interesting when they slay their victims in non-routine ways. Reflect for a brief second why Buffalo Bill skinned women in "The Silence Of The Lambs," and why the killer in "Seven" used the infamous seven deadly sins as his trademark. If you're going to get noticed in the movies, you need to stir up the police departments interest with unfamiliar styles. Otherwise, the murderers become ordinary and mix in with the orthodox type.

The approach of "The Bone Collector" is the newest in a series of "inventive" styles of serial killer films. It follows off the heals of those from last year's market--the respectable "Desperate Measures," and the modestly mediocre "Fallen." Like both of those pictures, this is more of a mixed bag--its serial killer has a novel approach when it comes to homicide, but he and the others are basically pulling a sheet over familiar styles and plot tricks. In other terms, its the same old lollipop with a new sugar coating.

For variety, the plot puts the opposing force in a hospital bed, paralyzed, with nothing to do but to guide a police official assigned to carrying out his work. He's a Forensics expert played by Denzel Washington, and she's a recent graduate who has read all his books played by Angelina Jolie. Washington is one of the top detectives of his time, but the accident that left him paralyzed changes that. When Jolie's character, the ambitious Amelia Donaghy, locates a dreadful crime at a set of train tracks, she preserves the evidence so well that the detective, Lincoln Rhyme, offers her a chance to do some "real police work." She accepts.

The tidbits that attract our fascination are mainly in the crimes themselves--a killer who, as we see on screen, gets his victims from taxi cabs collects their bones after he maliciously tortures and kills them. On screen imagery displays the style of these murders, and it is arguably the most grotesque sights you will see in a movie this year. But they are unique nonetheless, both in the way they are committed, and in the way that the killer leaves the clues for the officials to pick up on. Part of the fascination with these kinds of movies is the inexplicable reason why the killer purposely gives the police leads on their own cases. This picture does nothing to change that, and rightfully so.

The movie pulls out all the stops--it has heavy drama, tension, solid acting, attractive cinematography, an eerie mood, and most importantly, a killer to confuse the federal officials. But what is missing from all this? Inspiration, for starters. For each of the virtues, there is a similar direction taking them through familiar territory, mulling down their potential. Take the "who's behind the mask?" mystery, for example--how often is a murderer with odd ways of committing murder revealed long before the story intends? Phillip Noyce's direction aims to keep us at bay for the most of the duration of the running time, but he gives away too many clues an hour into the mystery, setting us up for an ending that is contrived and predictable.

Angelina Jolie is a striking screen presence (at least most of the time), but here she has lost a tad of prospect, letting Rhyme instruct her every move as if she's a puppet. The case builds with strong interest for the police officials, but it is ultimately Amelia who must get down to the dirty work, and so when she needs this man to guide her every move, we are disappointed in her lack of preparation (experience is one thing, but she's read most of the books that Rhyme has written. Isn't that enough?). In one scene, a look of horror graces here face at the sight of a slaughtered corpse. This feels unjustified at first, but later, it is explained--she was the one, after all, who discovered her father's corpse. How odd, then, that a woman with this kind of background could be so involved with a case in which she must discover human remains.

© 1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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