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Taking Lives

Taking Lives should have starred Ashley Judd and probably would have if they’d been able to add a healthy helping of Morgan Freeman and removed one scene of particularly heavy petting. But then that scene was probably only added for Angelina Jolie, who can’t stand to be in an R-rated movie without baring a breast. Obviously she, like us, felt that a year or two was far too long to go without displaying her taut body and pert bosoms. Jolie’s acting is always at its best when she can work in a little on screen sex. In Taking Lives she gives her finest, though the film itself flails about feebly and falls off the bed.

She stars as a creepy FBI agent, enlisted by the city of Montreal to help find a potential serial killer. Her methods are unorthodox and when we are first introduced to her character Illeana, she’s writhing about in a victim’s newly uncovered grave. The idea is that she tries to get inside the head of each casualty. She goes out of her way to see things from their point of view, to look at the little details that other cops might miss without being bothered by any of the usual gore. At least that’s how her character is initially presented. Somewhere around halfway through the film that idea is abandoned so that her Illeana can hop in a souped up Mustang (the world’s fastest rental car) and play Vin Diesel.

What follows her graveside introduction is a series of blatant misdirects that lead in a sort of loop-de-loop fashion towards an easily predictable killer. The killer is a chameleon who kills to steal other people’s lives. He’s been doing it since childhood, only this time there’s a witness. Enter Ethan Hawke in one of his better performances as Costa, struggling artist and Good Samaritan. He saw the killer and that makes him the next target. He’s also sexy, making him the target of the otherwise cold-fish Illeana’s affections. Before long Kiefer Sutherland is making threatening phone calls with his very cool voice and showing up unexpectedly in Costa’s apartment. Is he the one?

Taking Lives loves playing cheap games with its audience, and seems to throw in suspect redirects with an almost gleeful abandon. It purports itself as a smartly written mystery. Yet when it all comes together, the clues just don’t make any sense. Taking Lives is only interested in how much shock value it can deliver by throwing in as many twists as possible. Evidence to support them be damned!

What works are some halfhearted attempts to draw comparisons between Jolie’s unflinching investigator and the psychotic killers she hunts. Like the people she captures, she’s unfazed by brutality, murder, or death. In fact, she embraces it, eating breakfast while staring at horrific crime scene photos, the type that make the local cops throw up. When the revealed killer calmly pronounces that she and he are one and the same, it rings with a note of truth, which, had it been better examined might have given Taking Lives an edgier and much needed dimension. Instead Illeana is nonplussed and simply shrugs his accusations aside and goes for a gun.

Taking Lives has substituted massive plot holes for introspection and bad music for genuine thriller scares. Director D.J. Caruso uses a score that sounds as if it was stolen from Star Trek VI. Only in ST6, the music is used to help Shatner hunt down invisible Klingons. In Taking Lives it serves only to play loud enough to tell you when to be scared.

Angelina Jolie continues her unbroken string of whole-hearted effort in the midst of mediocre movie-making. She recently bailed out of the Tomb Raider franchise, presumably to make something worthwhile. But if Taking Lives is the best script she can find, then she might as well strap back on Lara Croft’s guns.