I guess Silence of the Lambs is to blame for our cinematic obsession with serial killers. The problem there is that few forays into the world of sequential homicides are any good. Like heist movies or movies with car chases, serial killer movies are easier to come by than a lightsaber at a Star Wars convention. But hey, they’re cheap, easy to make, and don’t require big stars to be successful so studios will keep right on cranking them. Maybe Triumph the Insult Comic Dog should set his sights on Aaron Eckhart, whose latest addition into this flaccid genre, Suspect Zero, is every bit as listless as most of its Anthony Hopkins-less brethren.
Suspect Zero at least tries to differentiate itself by mixing in a lot of hazy, psychic mumbo jumbo right from the outset, when our FBI agent hero starts getting these weird flashes of himself standing next to a copier. As far as flashes go, seeing yourself faxing a few minutes in the future isn’t particularly inspired, but that’s what Agent Thomas Mackelway is getting when he’s transferred from Dallas to Albuquerque in disgrace. So of course the agent with the fishy name must redeem himself and does so by jumping in to investigate a mysterious rash of killings. Soon it becomes painfully obvious that the killer is just trying to get his attention, and the messages our mystery man leaves are all directed specifically at Tom. Except he isn’t a mystery for long, since fifteen minutes in they figure out who he is, only no one ever bothers to put out an APB. Soon the chief is all up in his face and even though Tom has a mountain of evidence to support his conclusions, he doesn’t bother to show it to anyone, preferring that they all think he’s crazy.
We of course know who and what the killer is right from the outset, since Suspect Zero is one of those annoying movies that lets the audience know more about what’s happening than its somewhat dim-witted detectives. Benjamin O’Reilly (Ben Kingsley) is some sort of psychic in addition to being a killer and much of the movie is spent watching him sketch the stuff he sees happening in his head while tapping his hand like he’s listening to good Metallica. O’Reilly is obsessed with something he calls “suspect zero” which I suppose could be considered a spoiler, but like everything in this movie is so lame and obvious I doubt any of you will care if I blow it. In an interview in which O’Reilly’s old professor asks Tom, “Do you know the definition of a black hole” and Eckhart channels Paul Walker to respond with, “No what’s that?” the aged teacher tells us that suspect zero is this crazy idea that O’Reilly had about murders. You see, he had this notion that if killers didn’t leave any clues they wouldn’t be caught. Everyone of course thought this fairly obvious fact was preposterous, but O’Reilly became obsessed with it, thus explaining his crazed killing rampage, or whatever it is that the bald weirdo is doing out there with his hunting knife.
The movie itself is completely unaware of the obvious nature of its plot, and the idea that it might be hard to catch crooks who don’t leave clues is treated as a criminology breakthrough, nearly akin to time travel. That’s really the whole problem here. Suspect Zero is a movie based on some pretty dumb, transparent ideas and has convinced itself that those ideas are frighteningly brilliant. So it doesn’t bother with little things like making sense, content to in once scene have Tom and Ben meet for the first time in the middle of a busy carnival, only to fade out and fade back in with Tom tied up on the floor of Ben’s hotel room. Aren’t we missing something there in the middle? Should Ben have at least conked Tom on the head? If he did conk him on the head, how did he manage to drag him out of a huge crowd of people without anyone noticing?
Shoehorned in along the way is a romance between Tom and his old partner Fran (Carrie-Anne Moss) which starts out as a hate filled, antagonistic relationship. One night Tom gets caught in the rain though, so they put their foreheads together and tell each other “I love you”. Tom is a smooth worker and doesn’t seem to need things like romantic dinners to woo women. Again, the movie has left out the middle, the part where they grow to love each other (or even spend time together) and construct a relationship we can buy into. You can’t just halfheartedly reference some past mutual emotions, have your characters scream at each other, and then wave your magic wand to have a kissing scene whenever you run out of other things to do. You have to build something or at least give us a plausible excuse. Suspect Zero is inexcusable.
Still, in amongst all the forced creepiness and lame-duck storytelling there’s Ben Kingsley slinging out his usual acting brilliance. He’s disturbing and wonderful as a leather jacket wearing freak show and there’s something sick and special about seeing him slap on a pair of rubber gloves to take care of business. It is business for him by the way, he makes his murders seems frighteningly professional and I really dug the way he sometimes plays O’Reilly almost as a serial-killing IRS Agent. His delivery is also often reminiscent of Robin Williams in Insomnia but that’s good thing since as a killer Williams is also fairly dazzling, though Insomnia was a better flick in which to show it.
Somewhere along the away Aaron Eckhart earned some unwarranted goodwill and has yet to do anything to prove himself worthy of it. As an actor he’s barely better than Ashton Kutcher and as a consecutive murder movie Suspect Zero doesn’t manage to stack up to something as shaky as Taking Lives. Creepy music, weak desert car chases, and pixilated psychic vision do nothing to generate the kind of terrifying atmosphere director E. Elias Merhige is going for and even if it did there isn’t enough story here to support it. This absurdly obvious movie doesn’t deserve Ben Kingsley and it certainly doesn’t deserve to be seen by any of you.