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Along Came A Spider  

Cast: Morgan Freeman...............Alex Cross
Monica Potter................Jezzie Flannigan
Michael Wincott..............Gary Soneji
Dylan Baker..................Ollie McArthur
Jay O. Sanders...............Kyle Craig
Mika Boorem..................Megan Rose
Penelope Ann Miller..........Lauren Rose
Michael Moriarty.............Senator Hank Rose

Directed by: Lee Tamahori Written by: Marc Moss Based on the novel by James Patterson

Rated R for violence and language Running Time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
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"Along Came a Spider" wants to sweep its audience away onto a rollercoaster of plot twists and double crosses, yet it forgets to do two things: number one, make sense. The movie's twists may not always be predictable, but they don't add up in the backstory, either. The film will play best to people who suffer from an affliction similar to the Guy Pearce character's memory loss in "Memento" ... intriguing, as long as you can't remember too far back. Pondering too much will cause it to unravel. Oh, yeah; and the movie's not scary. That's the second thing.

Based upon James Patterson's first novel in the Alex Cross series (1997's "Kiss the Girls" was actually based on the second novel), the story has the troubled detective as a recluse, still suffering the psychological damage of losing his partner in a sting operation gone awry. But he is quickly drawn back into the detective game when Megan Rose (Mika Boorem), a prep school student and daughter of a U.S. senator (Michael Moriarty) is kidnapped by twisted psychopath Gary Soneji (Michael Wincott). Soneji masqueraded for two years as a teacher at the school, waiting to make his move. He's not after a ransom, but rather a place in the history books. He leaves a piece of evidence in Cross' mailbox, thereby luring him onto the case; his hope is for Cross to document the investigation which would in essence give the deranged predator a sense of immortality. Detective Cross is joined by Secret Service agent Jezzie Flannigan (Monica Potter), who was assigned to protect the girl. Both investigators hope to erase their guilt as they race against time to save the young hostage before it's too late.

The biggest problem I had with the movie is its lack of intensity. While "Kiss the Girls" was not a flawless film, is was definitely chilling. Director Gary Fleder masterfully utilized foreground and background planes as he created a penetrating element of fear not by cheap gimmicks, but by establishing an aura of paranoia. One of my favorite scenes in "Girls" had Cross chasing the suspect into the forest. He stopped, glanced down the road for a quick second, then gunshots fired from the vespertine shadows far off into the distance; everything happened within the very same frame.

"Spider" isn't nearly as skilled. Perhaps that's because Hitchcockian suspense is not director Lee Tamahori's strong suit. With "Mulholland Falls" and "The Edge", the director focused on the complex relationships between the characters and how they altered as the result of their respective situations. Here, the story doesn't allow as much free reign. The twists are too distinct to help facilitate greater character development. I can certainly admire Tamahori's venture into unchartered territory, but maybe sticking to character-driven scripts would be best.

Freeman gives another marvelous performance which unfortunately works against him, as it widens the gap between the authenticity he brings to the role and the preposterousness of the story's twists and turns. The likable young up-and-comer Monica Potter doesn't leave much of an impression here; she's basically reduced to reciting stilted lines of dialogue as she learns the intricacies of criminal profiling.

Sadly, "Along Came a Spider" belongs to the category of films that discombobulates its audience without bothering to captivate them. Considering that, I suppose the filmmakers accomplished what they set out to do. Red herrings are aplenty. It's too bad genuine intrigue is scarce.

Copyright 2001 Michael Brendan McLarney Critically Ill

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