This is what you could call a no-brainer

Review: Filmmakers have twisted story from the book `Don't Say A Word' into a mindless thriller.

September 28, 2001|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Don't Say A Word packages male hysteria so slickly there isn't an ounce of real life in it.

Michael Douglas stars as a high-powered New York psychiatrist who specializes in problem adolescents. On the evening before Thanksgiving he agrees to treat a teen-age patient (Brittany Murphy) in a psychiatric hospital - only to find on Thanksgiving morning that he has to crack her case by 5 p.m.

Bad guys have kidnapped his 8-year-old daughter and will kill the precocious tyke if the shrink doesn't retrieve a secret number from Murphy's scrambled brain. (They need it to find a valuable jewel.) To cap it off, Douglas' athletic wife (Famke Janssen) is laid up with a broken leg, and the greedy thugs can watch her every move with surveillance equipment.

For connoisseurs of kidnapped-kid melodramas, this is like Ransom with a lobotomy and on amphetamines.

Don't Say A Word is the kind of psychological thriller in which the only psychological thing about it is the hero's profession. His treatment of his patient sets speed records: He almost immediately sees that, apart from her real problems, his young patient is shamming catatonia and possibly schizophrenia.

With the help of props from his daughter's room, he brings her back to her 8-year-old mindset and has her reconstruct the incident that gave her post-traumatic stress symptoms. Long before that, the audience guesses that her dad was a thief who double-crossed the gang now threatening Douglas and his family.

In the novel on which the movie is based, Edgar Award-winning author Andrew Klavan knew how to use the middle-aged pains and past breakdown of the psychiatrist himself to bring genuine suspense to the question of whether he could outwit the murderous kidnappers. Director Gary Fleder and screenwriters Anthony Peckham and Patrick Smith Kelly strip away the psychological powwows among the shrink and his wife and colleagues, and go straight for the pow. The movie is relentless and empty and inhumane, using dead bodies as markers to be called in when the narrative demands it.

For that matter, the live bodies could hardly be called characters. The gifted Oliver Platt plays Douglas' colleague, but once he performs his function, the script tosses him off and the director doesn't let us see where he lands.

Fleder gears everything to an ersatz ripping climax set on Potter's Field on New York's Hart Island. Douglas, Sean Bean (as the cold chief villain) and Jennifer Esposito(as a no-nonsense cop) face off in front of numbered but otherwise unmarked graves, but no amount of velocity and firepower can turn jacked-up climaxes into moments of truth.

By the way, no character in this movie warrants more than one adjective. Murphy is haunted. Douglas is driven. Maybe this is a psychological thriller after all: Every thinking member of the audience will be driven insane.

Don't Say A Word

Starring Michael Douglas, Brittany Murphy and Famke Jannsen

Directed by Gary Fleder

Rated R

Released by 20th Century Fox

Running time 112 minutes

Sun score * 1/2

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