August 27th, 2004
“Suspect Zero” is a first class ticket to dullsville. A bone-dry thriller without any thrills, the plot, which pits a serial killer against other serial killers, is almost too ludicrous for words, and features a director who could care less about it.
After botching a routine murder case in Texas, federal agent Thomas Mackelway (Aaron Eckhart, “The Core”) is sent to New Mexico as punishment. Upon arrival, he starts to receive faxes from a mysterious stranger named O’Ryan (Ben Kingsley) who is slowly roaming around America, murdering the serial killers that law enforcement has failed to catch. With a clairvoyant ability to see his victims, O’Ryan believes that Mackelway is a crucial participant in his destiny, and travels to New Mexico to confront him. Teaming up with a fellow agent, Fran (Carrie-Anne Moss, “The Matrix”), Thomas attempts to piece the clues together to figure out O’Ryan’s ultimate goal.
A serial killer who hunts serial killers. Either the genre has sunk to an all-time low, or this is a decent twist on bone-dry material. “Suspect Zero” is a little of both. A shockingly tedious “thriller” with almost no excitement, regardless of the plot, “Zero” was given the potential for victory with a sharp script by Zak Penn, who appears interested in challenging the formula. However, realized by director E. Elias Merhige, “Zero” is nothing but an absolute drag.
Merhige is a filmmaker from the “pretty pictures first, story second” club, as seen in his big screen debut, the 2000 horror comedy “Shadow of the Vampire.” “Vampire” was a gorgeous looking film, painstakingly detailed. The same can be said of “Zero,” which is careful in depicting the angles of the serial killer existence and the desolate New Mexico locales. Compelling only on an aesthetic level, “Zero” is never visually dry, overreaching often to arrange sequences that won’t meet audience expectations in a clichéd way. It’s a respectable effort from Merhige, and undoubtedly the man understands how to arrange a shot. However, it becomes clear right away, in a carefully framed sequence where O’Ryan confronts his first victim at a truck stop, that visuals are all Merhige is bringing to the table.
Dramatically, “Zero” is a fiasco, recklessly bouncing around logic and coherence like a pinball. Starting with the cold shoulder that greets an important relationship subplot between Thomas and Fran, Merhige is ceaseless in the apathy that he shows the rest of the film. For a picture about impending murder, there is little urgency to “Zero,” leaving the capable cast out in the blazing New Mexico sun to throw hissy fits just to liven up the proceedings (I’m looking your way Kingsley). Merhige doesn’t have the notion that the characters need to be the ones driving the plot, not the cinematographer. I would gladly trade in all the trick shots for genuine pace and some actual thrills.
The serial killer genre has been kind to Paramount Pictures in the past, but this year has clearly identified that the moment is gone (seen also in their stale spring production, “Twisted”). “Suspect Zero” is an obvious indication that the studio is now simply beating a dead horse.
My rating: D