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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
SPIDER Weaves Confusing Tale
by Betty Jo Tucker

Is it too much to ask for reasonable explanations of human behavior in a psychological thriller? After watching Along Came a Spider from beginning to end, Iím still not sure how the villain became obsessed with police psychologist Alex Cross or why he lured the noted doctor into his web. Morgan Freeman, with his soft velvet voice and penetrating dark eyes, delivers another spellbinding performance as Cross, but thatís not enough to make up for such appalling lack of attention to motivation.

Even Freeman, who played the same detective in Kiss the Girls, has trouble with some of the filmís unbelievable dialogue. When Gary Soneji (Michael Wincott), a psychotic kidnapper, asks for a diagnosis of his condition, Cross replies, "Youíre suffering from an overwhelming desire to burn in Hell."

Puhleez! Shouldnít that answer display a more scientific flair --- especially from a distinguished psychologist? Judging by the unhappy look on Freemanís face, he wondered the same thing. To be fair, Cross is in mourning over the death of a partner killed while trying to help him catch a serial killer. Blaming himself, heís not quite ready for another case when the sinister Soneji contacts him about a high profile kidnapping.

Unable to resist this challenge, Cross bonds quickly with Secret Service agent Jezzie Flannigan (Monica Potter), who seems to be hurting too. She tells him about her guilt feelings over not being able to prevent Sonejiís abduction of Megan Rose (Mika Boorem), a U. S. congressmanís (Michael Moriarity) daughter. Recognizing the potential for another "crime of the century" like the Lindbergh baby case, Cross and Flannigan join forces to find Megan, capture Soneji, and prevent further child kidnappings. Unfortunately, adding to the filmís unreality factor, Potter (Head Over Heels) appears more like an FBI Barbie doll than a bona fide government agent in this key role. (Where are you, Helen Hunt, when we need you?)

About halfway through the film, the already confusing plot changes course to focus on others involved in the crime. Emphasizing surprise and a murky relationship, it neglects to offer satisfactory reasons for either. By this time, I felt like I was having an existential dream instead of viewing a movie. No such luck. The filmís overpowering music kept stopping me from taking a much-needed catnap.

But seriously, folks, itís not likely I would sleep through any scenes featuring the wonderful Freeman. A thinking actor, he endows his characters with a quiet dignity (yes, his hit man in Nurse Betty had that same quality), and I always want to know more about them. Freeman projects both outer calmness and inner turmoil as Cross, the reluctant mind hunter. He made me wish this film was worthy of him.

Director Lee Tamahori does manage to achieve two highly suspenseful sequences in Along Came a Spider, but neither matches the quality of his work in The Edge, the most frightening movie of 1997. Spiderís exciting opening scene shows a car teetering on a bridge. Before it plunges into the rapids below, Cross reaches out to save his partner, who is trapped in the doomed vehicle. Both detectives express panic without saying a word. In one fatal moment, their terrified eyes tell it all. In the second instance, Boorem (the young actress playing Megan) projects intense fear as she tries to escape from a killer in an old barn. A child in jeopardy always gets to me, but Boorem, with her tiny huddled body and nervous facial expressions, does some exceptional acting here. I could hardly breathe until she was safe.

Along Came a Spider, based on James Pattersonís best seller, proves how important it is to highlight motivation in films about deviant behavior. Using religious admonitions in place of psychological theories just doesnít work. Even the great Dr. Alex Cross canít get away with it.

(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated "R" for language and violence.)

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