movie review by
Gary Johnson


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The Bone Collector
The Bone Collector is based upon a book by suspense novelist Jeffery Deaver, but if feels like the invention of Hollywood producers. It's a paint-by-numbers production, cobbled together from various sources. It's Silence of the Lambs combined with Seven, with a good dose of Rear Window (updated with a Jack Kervorkian outlook). As directed by Phillip Noyce, The Bone Collector doesn't survive comparison with any of these movies. It's rarely a boring movie, but it never comes to life on its own.

Denzel Washington stars as a disabled police detective named Lincoln Rhyme. He's still on the city's payroll--mostly out of deference to his impressive resume: Lincoln has penned several influential books about criminals and detective work. After an in-the-line-of-duty accident, Lincoln only has control of his body from the neck up--save for two fingers. He has rudimentary control of a computer (thanks to a mouthpiece apparatus and a tracking ball), but for all the necessities of everyday life, he must rely upon his nurse (Queen Latifah). His future definitely isn't bright: a buildup of fluid on his spine has created a degenerative condition. It's only a matter of time before he becomes a vegetable.

When a wealthy man is murdered, the police department turns to Lincoln for advice. His apartment soon becomes a nest of activity. Large screen monitors adorn his walls and a crime lab sprouts beside his bed. Angelina Jolie stars as an inexperienced police officer named Amelia Donaghy. She has a flair for detective work--or so Lincoln tells her. She discovered the recent murder victim and showed the wherewithal to flag down a train before it disturbed the crime scene (one of the movie's best scenes).

Amelia becomes Lincoln's eyes and legs. As the killings continue, she investigates the crime scenes while talking to Lincoln through a headset. This relationship between Amelia and Lincoln is the single most compelling feature of the movie. Lincoln clearly latches onto her because she is green. He has control over her and can get her to do what he wants--within reason. He wants to know what she feels "in the deepest recesses" of her mind as she investigates the crime scenes. But the filmmakers completely lack the compunction to investigate this relationship. They depict it in wholly positive terms, with one token exception when Lincoln pushes her too far while she's investigating a particularly gory murder. But otherwise, the filmmakers don't question this relationship. We get simple-minded platitudes from Lincoln: "Remember, crime scenes are three dimensional: floors, walls, ceilings." As a result, the movie has no complexity.

Most of the filmmaking imagination went into staging the murders. These scenes are mounted with relish. But they never have the impact of Silence of the Lambs or Seven. The Bone Collector is a safe concoction that keeps us at a safe distance from anything truly disturbing. It's a movie for people who found Silence of the Lambs and Seven to be too intense and creepy. Whereas Silence of the Lambs and Seven didn't hesitate to reveal their true killers, The Bone Collector plays a whodunit game with the audience. Jeremy Iacone's screenplay tosses us a red herring and attempts to hold the audience's attention with a series of transparent conflicts, such as the conflict between Lincoln and a police captain (Michael Rooker) or the paper-thin protestations of Amelia. But the whodunit approach fails to give us a strong villain at the center of the drama. And when it's time to give us the killer, they pull someone out of thin air. Without a Hannibal Lecter (Silence of the Lambs) or John Doe (Seven), the movie becomes a gimmicky exercise in audience manipulation.

Lincoln's investigative unit swarms around every piece of evidence as if it's a riddle within a riddle--with a devotion worthy of The X-Files. This is how dime-store novelists envision detective work. To compound the problem, the movie never overcomes the problem of Angelina Jolie's credibility as a police detective. Her face is stripped of makeup so that she looks as bland as possible, but with her collagen injected lips and her near-anorexic-thin limbs, she still looks like a supermodel. If you buy her as a police officer, I've got some swamp land in Louisiana that I'd like to unload...

Over the past few years, director Phillip Noyce has become Hollywood's first choice when converting suspense novels into movies (with Clear and Present Danger and Patriot Games to his credit). However, the promise that Noyce showed with Dead Calm (1989) has slowly dissipated. With each movie, he becomes a more mechanical director. Even the presence of Denzel Washington can't save The Bone Collector from becoming a routine police drama.

[rating: 2 of 4 stars]