Freeman pulls out his cinematic finesse

Movie review

April 06, 2001|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Morgan Freeman is such a commanding presence and wonderful actor that just watching him walk across the screen can be a thrill.

Freeman is hands down the best thing about "Along Came a Spider," a briskly paced suspense thriller that allows him to reprise the role (from 1997's "Kiss the Girls") of Alex Cross, a D.C. police detective and psychologist who gets inside bad guys' heads. His presence alone almost negates the film's myriad sins - including a resolution that becomes obvious about halfway through the movie.

"Spider" begins with Cross in a deep, almost impenetrable funk over the death of his partner, a death he unfairly blames on himself. Determined to remove himself from the police biz, he's restricted himself for the past eight months to building toy boats and sleeping.

But then the young daughter of a U.S. senator is kidnapped from under her Secret Service agents' noses, and the kidnapper, determined to match wits with the best, draws an unwilling Cross into the case. His profiler juices finally flowing again, Cross gets to work.

The result is a tense game of cat and mouse in which the dogged detective thinks his way through every clue, every roadblock. It's a testimony to Freeman's considerable talent that even when Cross' analytical skills border on the superhuman, we never doubt them. This is a guy with a major head on his shoulders.

There's also an interesting mentor/pupil, priest/confessor relationship between Cross and Jezzie Flannigan (Monica Potter), the Secret Service agent who had been in charge of the missing girl's security detail. Dismissed as a failure by her superiors, she's brought back into the fold at Cross' insistence; he points out that no one knows more about this case than she does - even if she doesn't realize all she knows.

Where "Along Came a Spider" falters is in the script by Marc Ross, working from James Patterson's novel. It forces Freeman to say such "profound" things as "Forgiving ourselves is the one thing we can't do," and makes Potter play a Secret Service agent who refers to her father in public as "Daddy."

Even less forgivable is the film's tendency to cheat, to purposely misdirect the audience by having characters do or say things they wouldn't normally say, or by throwing out red herrings just to goose the audience. Thrillers and whodunits have been doing that for decades, of course, but films such as "The Sixth Sense," which didn't need to cheat to surprise, have raised the bar considerably.

Then there's that "surprise" ending, one that's telegraphed about halfway through the film when a character does something that makes little sense, except to prevent the film from ending at the 45-minute mark. Just to make sure the audience didn't miss it, the character does the same thing again a few seconds later.

Alert viewers will spend the rest of the film praying they haven't already figured everything out. Unfortunately, they have. Best advice: Just sit back and watch Freeman anyway. The man's a cinematic treasure.

`Along Came a Spider'

Starring Morgan Freeman, Monica Potter

Directed by Lee Tamahori

Rated R (Violence, adult language)

Released by Paramount

Running time 103 minutes

Sun score * * 1/2

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