`Taking Lives' takes from other thrillers but doesn't improve on them

This time, it's Jolie stalking the killer

March 19, 2004|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Taking Lives, the serial-killer thriller of the week, should have gotten a life of its own instead of trying to steal it from Michael Pye's novel of the same name and several other movies.

What Pye had was the concept of a murderer who life-jacks his victims, assuming their identities before moving on. What the moviemakers have done is unsuccessfully life-jack other novels and movies ranging from Thomas Harris' Hannibal Lechter-Clarice Starling thrillers to Seven. They've added a female FBI profiler, Illeana Scott (Angelina Jolie), and they've told the movie largely from her point of view. She's a visitor to Montreal (where the killer has been traced), a collaborator with fatherly Montreal police chief Tcheky Karyo and his macho underlings (including Unfaithful's Olivier Martinez), and, ah, yes, a woman unexpectedly attracted to a jittery, sympathetic art dealer caught up in the case (Ethan Hawke).

If the novel took the amorality of Patricia Highsmith's Mr. Ripley books to bold, disorienting heights, Jon Bokenkamp's script brings the plot back down to the realm of routine forensics. Then director D.J. Caruso gussies it up with deliberately streaky, herky-jerky visuals. Caruso extends the creepy, fluttery, bug's-eye focus of the famous Seven credits sequence into the look of his whole movie. In effect, all he does is destroy the geography of the action sequences so they become mere spectacle - action figure-painting - and over-emphasize Agent Scott's supposed status as an instinctive genius. He zeroes in on her eyes and ears every time she has a perception. He even adds a whooshing sound so no one can miss the point that she's subject to strokes of inspiration.

I like Angelina Jolie when she does her cool, intense, all-knowing thing; I also like her when she collapses like a pricked balloon. But in this movie she seesaws abruptly between the two.

The supporting actors, including Karyo, Martinez, Kiefer Sutherland in one of his ominous prime-suspect roles and Gena Rowlands as the killer's mother, maintain their dignity mostly by staying opaque. At best they keep the secret that their roles are about nothing. Jolie, unfortunately, can't; she must act out the ridiculous twists and shocks. The climax in a snowy landscape serves her up a la mode in a movie that loses its head and strains our vision trying to be a la mod.

Taking Lives

Starring Angelina Jolie and Ethan Hawke

Directed by D.J. Caruso

Released by Warner Bros.

Rated R (violence, sex and language)

Time 100 minutes

Sun Score *1/2

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