Despite the fact that they are common enough to almost qualify as a subgenre these days, quality serial killer movies are rare. Making a suspenseful movie without resorting to exploitative horror movie sadism is a difficult balance.
"The Bone Collector" makes a valiant try at being a cut above. The story is based on the fine thriller by Jeffery Deaver, which combines "Silence of the Lambs" with a unique updating of Holmes and Watson. Add a quality cast, and a director with a sense of style, and you have the potential for a good fall suspense movie.
Denzel Washington plays Lincoln Rhyme, once a New York cop and one of the world's leading forensic specialists. He is now a bedridden quadrapeligic, only able to move his head and one finger. Talk about your armchair detectives. Depressed by his condition, Rhyme is in the midst of planning his own suicide, when the NYPD asks for his help.
Angelina Jolie is Amelia Donaghy, a resourceful street cop who is up for a cushy desk job. When she stops a train to protect evidence at a crime scene, Rhyme admires her instincts, and only agrees to help the NYPD, if Amelia works as his assistant. He wants someone who is smart, but not experienced enough to second guess him in the field.
A cab driving killer is kidnaping and gruesomely murdering people, deliberately leaving clues behind, and taunting the cops who inevitably arrive too late to help the victims.
The story builds a fair amount of suspense as the cops race to prevent murders; the forensic details are fascinating; and the characters are intriguing. The bad guy's plan is horrific and stomach churning enough for a real sense of dread.
Some strong performances also help, with good chemistry generated between the leads. Denzel Washington does a nice job as the brainy detective; but a little of the character's arrogance and sarcasm from the book would have given the role a more interesting edge.
It is Angelina Jolie who really shines. Whether expressing her resentment at Rhyme's interruptions of her career plan, her horror at the more gruesome aspects of the job she's been drafted into, she is utterly convincing and a charismatic presence. When she becomes more tender toward Rhyme, her smile lights up the room.
The usually grating Ed O'Neill is very good as Rhyme's ex-partner, who runs the investigation; but Michael Rooker as a jealous head of Forensics is over the top, and makes the dumb superior in "Die Hard" look good. Queen Latifah does little beside look bemused.
Unfortunately, though he has made a good-looking movie, director Phillip Noyce (whose work has ranged from top notch in "Dead Calm" and "Patriot Games" to garbage in "Sliver") rushes things along too quickly. Puzzles are too easily solved, character points too readily analyzed, and obstacles overcome by convenient plot device rather than hard work.
The good stuff-- the growing respect between Rhyme and Amelia, the painstaking lab work, Rhyme's growing sense of purpose in his life-- take a back seat to action. As Noyce has done in the past, the violent climax is overdone and seems tacked on stylistically compared to the rest of the movie.
Noyce also resorts several times to conventional bump in the dark horror movie conventions. Worst of all, in Perry Mason TV movie tradition, you can spot the killer by looking for the supporting actor who is in too small a role not to be the last act surprise.
Another half hour or so was needed to flesh out the bare bones of this story. "The Bone Collector" is reasonably entertaining, but in the end, it is too slick for its own good.