Paramount has a rather dubious recent history of incredibly mediocre thrillers with titles like Twisted, Abandon and Domestic Disturbance. Eventually they get around to featuring Ashley Judd (Double Jeopardy), the work of author James Patterson (Along Came a Spider) or both (Kiss the Girls). Normally they have more faith in them than to just dump them into the final week of August; a cinematic landfill. I even had greater hopes thanks to a better-than-average trailer and a director whose previous work I greatly admired. The only difference is that it takes a bit longer to contemplate how very little is there.It gets off on the right foot with a dark and stormy rendezvous at an isolated diner. Benjamin O’Brien (Ben Kingsley, in half-Sexy Beast mode) approaches a traveling salesman and haunts him with horrific drawings. This man soon turns up dead and disgraced FBI agent, Thomas Mackelway (Aaron Eckhart) is put on the case. He’s now a stickler for procedure after discovering too late that beating the hell out of your chief suspect isn’t in the handbook’s glossary.
O’Brien’s string of murders coincides with the disappearance of just about every child ever born in the U.S. borders. His M.O. includes popping out the eyes of his victims and an odd meditational ritual that has him listening to static and writing down numbers. The method to his madness makes for a fascinating exploration into criminal investigation, but since the film seems to be making it up as it goes along it’s likely that it knows less about the procedure than the audience.
It shouldn’t take the CSI team to spell out exactly what O’Brien is up to. But the script insists on bringing in Tom’s former co-worker and lover, Fran Kulok (Carrie-Anne Moss) just to be further contradictory. We didn’t need her to tell us what a circle with a line through it means. OK, so it’s right in the title but even the crazy person in the film knew.
Suspect Zero lures us into an intriguing casefile rich with the suspects of vigilante ambiguity and elements of science fiction. Except its so nondescript in its unveiling that the poster might as well have been the standard V-slash with actor’s faces. Instead of an interesting character study into O’Brien’s motives and past, we follow around perhaps the least invigorating sleuth of the century. His most identifying trait is that he takes aspirin. The suggestion that Tom suffers from or was part of a similar Manchurian project never mestastases and he has chemistry with nary a human in the film. I’d much rather follow around Benjamin Bratt’s Tom Lone from Catwoman. At least he was bland enough to include humorous ineptitude. Hopefully this is the last of a three-picture deal with Paramount (The Core, Paycheck) because Eckhart needs to get away now and get that next LaBute project out ASAP.Take away all the excitement, intrigue, mystery, sci-fi, performances and movement from Minority Report and we’d still be a few rings above Suspect Zero. The screenplay by Zak Penn and Billy Ray borrows all sorts of elements from that and throws in an ending straight out of Seven for icing. Stale, back-of-the-cupboard icing. Director E. Elias Merhige (Shadow of the Vampire) has an interesting visual style that sticks out like a sore bunion amidst the facileness and has no room to bring any suspense or even a cheap scare to keep us awake. Suspect Zero is Frailty for fans of made-for-television thrillers more interested in the commercials.