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by Jack Sommersby

"A Facile Serial-Killer Thriller"
2 stars

That's right -- Lee Majors plays a dastardly killer terrorizing beautiful young women, I kid you not!

Written and directed by Ace Cruz, the serial-killer thriller Fate plays out like a cross between David Fincher's Se7en and Gary Fleder's Kiss the Girls, with a religious/sadistic fiend going around knocking off people, whom he views as sinners, after holding them captive in a secluded hideaway in the woods. In fact, as in Se7en, the very first victim is an obese shut-in; and as in Girls, the pretty female captives converse and yell amongst themselves inside their cave-like surroundings while the killer is away. Derivative and cliche-ridden to a considerable fault, the film functions as a whydunit rather than a whodunit: we're made privy to the killer's identity very early on, but not to the reasoning behind the selection of the victims in particular, to what sets them apart from the rest of the everyday sinning citizens in the small Southern city of Alpharetta. Cody Martin (played by Michael Pare) is the first detective assigned to the case, but, as luck (or contrivance) would have it, he's forced to partner up with the department's new cop, Ciprian Raines (Phillip Michael Thomas), who knows Martin from their previous years at the FBI -- they were both part of an operation that went bad, which ended with the death of sixteen agents and forty-one civilians. Yes, bad blood exists between the two, but after some initial friction they manage to work alongside each other collectively, though they still manage to almost always remain one to two steps behind the killer.

Speaking of the killer, TV veteran Lee Majors plays him, and, quite surprisingly, plays him well. Adorned with a twang and a limp, Majors' Oscar Odgen, the local janitor, is an amiable sort, the kind who projects a pleasant, disarming demeanor and dexterously blends into society; in fact, he's so ingratiating that when he exchanges good-hearted pleasantries with the kids at the elementary school he cleans up at, it doesn't strike one as even the least bit creepy (except, that is, to the school principal, who summons him to his office for what we assume to be a severe talking-to). But there's a dark side to Odgen. He's haunted by children's voices and flashbacks of a five-year-old blonde girl, and he spends too much time staring aimlessly into space while in his rocking chair. And when his actual involvement in the killings is revealed, we're allowed to see what a terrifying figure he cuts: outfitted in a black sweat jacket with the hood pulled up, and driving around in a vintage, beat-out red GM pickup truck, he emits a malevolent intensity that chills one's blood. Granted, the role isn't particularly well written, but Majors manages to portray Odgen with such concentrated intensity that he makes this hypocritical God-fearing Baptist convincing; he even manages to overcome the line reading, "All the drugs and the alcohol. Where did you go wrong? You used to be such a good citizen." He's also been saddled with one of those eye-rolling explain-it-all atonement speeches at the end before his ticket is cancelled, and he gets through it with flying colors.

The film, though, isn't quite up to Majors' standards. It's got some semi-notable things about it -- good lighting in the woods locales, a creative sound design, some occasional female nudity -- but the debuting screenwriters, Ash Smith and Martha Burgess, rely too heavily on stale cop devices like the aforementioned partner angle, stilted dialogue ("My intuition tells me something isn't right."), the concentration of screen time on one of the cops' wives who's pregnant just so she can be used as a bargaining tool for the killer later on, and cringe-inducing logic loopholes (one of the cops even handles a corpse without gloves on). Director Cruz has a reasonably good eye for detail and manages to shroud the proceedings with some doom-laden atmosphere, but he, too, displays his liabilities: the action scenes are weakly staged (especially when Odgen plays cat-and-mouse with the cops in the woods), and there's little in the way of propulsion to the narrative (the cops never seem to be that determined to crack the case). Add to this some glaringly obvious out-of-sync sound recording in places, stiff performances by Pare and Thomas, and banal visual metaphors like Odgen looking at his reflection through a cracked mirror so we know he's, well, cracked, and you have one of those direct-to-video oddities that's not bad enough to throw stones at yet not good enough to justify singing hymns about, either. For fans of Lee Majors, please feel inclined to pay it a look-see; for the rest, there's always New Line's Platinum edition of Se7en to re-watch for the umpteenth time.

Oh, it's far from disgraceful stuff, but it's also well-worn material that fails to give the film a valid reason for being.

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originally posted: 12/09/06 03:02:45
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1/16/09 Shaun Wallner This movie was stupid! 2 stars
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  02-Nov-2004 (R)
  DVD: 02-Nov-2004



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