Bonehead `Collector' dumbs down serial killing

November 05, 1999|By Chris Hewitt | Chris Hewitt,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

When did serial killing become a creative outlet?

Movie serial killers are getting so elaborate that I half-expect Martha Stewart to inaugurate a new section of her magazine. It'll be called "Murdering," and it'll be devoted to decorating with letters and images clipped from newspapers and setting up sicko scavenger hunts to baffle smarty-pants detectives.

In "The Bone Collector," Denzel Washington plays a smarty-pants detective, an ex-cop named Rhyme. An on-the-job accident left him motionless except for his neck and a finger, with which he operates a computer. Rhyme loses the will to live, until he's confronted with a fascinatingly arcane serial killer. To solve the crime, Rhyme teams his brain with the legwork of Angelina Jolie, playing an instinctive young cop.

"The Bone Collector" is not especially suspenseful, but it's absorbing to watch Rhyme's character interact with Queen Latifah, as a no-guff nurse, and make the most of the crazy array of technology at his disposal. Nearly all of Washington's scenes are set in the same (gorgeous) apartment, but director Phillip Noyce makes it visually arresting as we watch the effectively low-key Washington follow a trail of clues, left especially for him at each crime scene.

Did that last sentence sound a little dopey to you, though? Me, too. I have a hard time swallowing the idea that there are murderers who are more interested in devising baroquely Hasbro-esque puzzles than actually murdering -- in "The Bone Collector," the overkill is akin to dynamiting the Metrodome in order to get rid of a mouse.

As the film moves toward its climax, it gets more ridiculous, building to a solution nowhere near as interesting as the puzzle and a finale too sappy for words.

The stupid ending reveals the movie's weakness: Its story isn't interesting or new. But the efficient way it's told disguises the problem for as long as possible.

`The Bone Collector'

Starring Denzel Washington, Angelina Jolie and Queen Latifah

Directed by Phillip Noyce

Rated: R (gruesome violence and some raw language)

Released by: Universal and Columbia Pictures

Running time 118 minutes

Sun score: **

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