I’m sitting here eating my supper--Guinness Chicken, courtesy of Mr. Thrilling (who does 90% of the cooking around here—-which is only reasonable since he is a much better cook than me) and trying to decide what to watch on the telly. I don’t watch a lot of TV—-not from intellectual snobbery, but because I’m pretty narrow in my tastes. I’m addicted to What Not to Wear and PBS's Mystery!, but mostly I watch old movies—crime and mystery in particular. I like to write with old movies playing in the background. I hope this doesn't eventually lead me into trouble a la George Harrison.
But I do watch a lot of new movies too—and maybe I should talk about the last one Mr. Thrilling and I viewed. It’s called Taking Lives and it stars Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke and a number of French Canadian guys (but I don’t blame them, and you shouldn’t either).
Mr. Thrilling and I are in agreement that this is one of the very worst movies we’ve watched--either singly or together. Which is saying something. If you want the edited version of my review: clumsy and derivative.
The oddly lovely Angelina is Special Agent Illeana Scott who is supposed to be a top FBI profiler. The promo material says that she “doesn’t use traditional crime-solving techniques to unravel the mysteries of a murderous mind. Her intuitive, unconventional approach often makes the crucial difference between catching a killer and sending a dead-end case to the cold file.” And we know that to be true because our first glimpse of her is at night at a crime scene lying where the butchered victim was found, so right off the bat it's a given that she is a) brilliant, b) eccentric, c) fearless about grass and blood stains.
(Just for a change I’d love to see a brilliant profiler who actually spends a lot of time poring over files and photos and case histories and books and…you know…investigating.)
Illeana is invited to help the Montreal police in their efforts to catch a “cunning” (as always) serial killer. Which is kind of unlikely, but not impossible--it's the kind of thing for which I'm willing to suspend disbelief--and I loved the idea of this yank FBI agent in Montreal (even if, according to Mr. Thrilling, most of the scenes of Montreal were actually of Quebec). Since Mr. Thrilling hails from Montreal I thought this would be a fun one to share. Fortunately he has pretty much forgiven me, and I'm feeling sure my Guinness Chicken is not poisoned--not that I'd blame him.
Anyway, let's go back to where the movie opens up with -- oh, I should warn you that I am not going to be careful about spoilers -- our teenaged serial killer performing his first (or IS it?????) cunning murder. Basically he pushes another teenager in front of an on-coming vehicle in the absolute middle of nowhere, which has to be the dumbest ever murder attempt EXCEPT Dame Fortune is with this kid, and the on-coming vehicle goes out of control, flips, crashes, explodes and all possible witnesses are killed.
Fast forward twenty odd years and a terrified Gina Rowlands (who must be desperate for work) goes to the police with the information that her long dead son, Asher, is not dead after all -- she just saw him on a ferry and he's alive and he's ever so dangerous as you would not believe.
So those of us who can hear over the crunching of popcorn put two and two together and deduce that Gina is the mother of that lucky homicidal youth, that he knows where she lives, that her days are numbered, etc. All roads leading to Mom, as it were.
Anyway, where was I? Right, the Montreal coppers bring in G-Woman Illeana to help with these perplexing serial killings that they can't for the life of them solve on their own. Why is it Americans never bring in Canadians to help, eh?
OH, and there's been a big break in the case because there was an eye-witness to the murder of the last victim. In fact, the police (and the audience) are pretty darned sure the witness IS the murderer...but it's hard to tell because Ethan Hawke has given some uneven performances, so I wasn't quite sure if he was pretending to be a bad actor because he was the killer or if he was just having an off day.
By the way, the best part of this movie is the blooper reel on the DVD. Just an aside.
Sooooo the Montreal Police look to the unconventional Illeana to clue them in as to whether the witness Costa is the real deal. She interviews him briefly and gives him a clean bill of health because when she drops...jeez, now I'm forgetting...pictures of the murder scene, was it? Anyway, he shows shock and horror and so he can't possibly be FAKING that, right? 'Cause even cunning serial killers don't know how to FAKE their reactions!!! How fair would that be?
Back to the promo materials. "With meticulous insight..."
(STOP. What the hell is "meticulous insight?" How can insight be meticulous? Is that just the silliest thing or am I being too picky?)
Sorry. Ahem. "...she (that would be Illeana) theorizes that the chameleon-like killer is 'life-jacking'--assuming the lives and identities of his victims."
So that's what that phrase means. I sort of wondered. And how does Illeana deduce that? Guesswork or more amazing intuition?
"As the pressure mounts to catch the elusive murderer, Agent Scott's unorthodox methods alienate her from a territorial police team that feels threatened by her uncanny abilities."
Those French guys are JEALOUS. It's well-documented that all cops--especially French cops--are chauvinist peegs--even the Canadian ones. They are clearly envious of her meticulous insight.
"Her seemingly cold demeanor belies an unparalleled passion for her work, and she's at her best when she's working alone."
And doing nothing.
"However, when an unexpected attraction sparks a complicated romantic entanglement, the consummate specialist begins to doubt her finely-honed instincts. Alone in an unfamiliar city with no one she can trust,"
People, it's not IRAQ, for God's sake! Her friend and former mentor/colleague invited her up there--why can't she trust HIM? Why can't she confer with her buddies at the Bureau--doesn't she have a cell phone? And what is the matter with her finely-honed instincts that she can't see what the entire audience spots instantly?
(By now I was ready to murder Mr. Thrilling who could not shut up about everything they were getting wrong about Canada, Montreal, train time tables, geography, etc. He was SO missing the point.)
So, anyhooooo, Illeana and her team of crackpots--er, her crack team--go visit Gina Rowlands and while they are poking around her creepy haunted basement (in an otherwise totally normal suburban home) Illeana is accosted by the killer who apparently has been dossing down in the hidden cellar for decades (by the looks of things) and could have killed old G. any time he chose. This must be one of them thar Mother Fixations we read about in True Crime magazine!
Illeana does some kick butt martial arts moves and saves herself, but the cunning killer escapes again. DARN IT ALL!!! I mean, the tension is really mounting here!
Note: the funny little carved figures in the basement that show up on the credits are never explained as far as I can tell. Somebody want to explain there significance to me?
"Agent Scott suddenly finds herself on a twisted and terrifying journey, surrounded by suspects in a case that has become chillingly personal..."
Oh my God. So here's the quick version because it's almost time for the Perry Mason re-runs. Keifer Sutherland (looking as rumpled and disreputable as if they had to wake him up for his walk on cameo) shows up threatening Ethan/Costa, and everyone and their finely honed instincts assumes he is the murderer, and when he is killed by Costa in the MOST preposterous (but unquestioned by all those consumate professionals) scenario imaginable, there is much rejoincing throughout the land--and Illeana gives into those finely honed instincts and goes to bed with him. Costa, I mean. Not Keifer, who was burnt to a rumpled and disreputable crisp.
And their night of rollicking sex causes Ethan/Costa's stitches (don't ask--it's not germane) to open up and they go to the hospital to get him fixed up and while he's there he coincidentally gets into an elevator with Asher's mom (Gina, that would be) and of course she recognizes him....
And when girlishly-happy-and-so-in-love Illeana presses the open button on the elevator, the doors swing open and there is Asher/Costa/Ethan sawing Gina's head off.
Need I say more?
I'm not even going to ask where the heck he got the knife because that is just one too many impossible things to believe before dessert.