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"Along Came A Spider" works. It may suffer from one plot twist too many,
may borrow liberally from other pictures, it may have narrative holes you
could run a horse race through, but in spite of all that, it WORKS. And as
everyone knows, that is about the highest compliment a film like this can
Directed by Lee Tamahori, "Along Came a Spider" hits the ground running with a bravura sequence in which a federal sting goes horribly wrong and a good agent dies. Det. Alex Cross (Morgan Freeman), the leader of the sting, goes into brooding isolation, but a year later, the daughter of a U.S. congressman (Michael Moriarty) is kidnapped from her prestigious Washington boarding school by a brilliant madman, and Cross, a mental wizard with the ability to see into the mind of the maddest psychopath, is the only one who can track the criminal's M.O. and save the girl.
Standard thriller territory, and it's given more or less standard treatment, albeit with a fair share of stylistic spark and energy. Tamahori does a good job choreographing his action set pieces, particularly that shattering opening and a nifty cat-and-mouse chase that closes out the picture. Cinematographer Matthew F. Leonetti gives the film a dark, brooding visual richness, and Jerry Goldsmith contributes another thunderously effective thriller score.
The acting is also generally strong across the board. Morgan Freeman.. what can one say? I honestly cannot think of another modern actor who has done such consistently high-quality work. Granted, Cross does not seem like a role that would overly tax a top-notch thespian like Freeman, but he doesn't sell it short either, giving the character his full, commanding force. He is the tough, solid center that really elevates "Along Came A Spider" above pulp territory. Michael Wincott plays the psycho (as naturally he would; what else is Michael Wincott going to play in a film?), and gives it his gravelly-voiced best, making us hate this guy just as much as we should. Monica Potter is fine as the young security officer helping Cross track the fiend, but I was constantly distracted by the fact that her voice sounds EXACTLY LIKE JULIA ROBERTS! I swear, it sounded like she'd been dubbed. Am I the only one who noticed this? Probably, so I'll drop it.
If there's any real complaint to be had with "Along Came A Spider" (aside from my weird personal difficulties with Monica Potter's voice), it is an age-old one for a thriller: script problems. Screenwriter Marc Moss keeps things moving nicely, and there are some clever moments throughout, but the film also raises unanswered questions. What was the purpose of the weird Lindbergh website the kidnapper sets up? When will they learn that internet-related plot devices just don't work in films? What was the point of the Russian kid who seems to play such a big role in the middle portion of the picture? Why did Moss feel the need to crib his most exciting sequence, a footchase with the maniac leading Cross through Washington via cell phone, from "Dirty Harry"? Granted, I haven't read the novel by James Patterson upon which this film was based, so I may not be casting blame in the right place. But Patterson didn't write this script, so maybe I am.
As I mentioned before, however, all of this largely doesn't matter. In the moment, while it's unfurling in front of you, the film's fast pace, engaging performances, and visual polish keep you intrigued, and allow you to overlook the plot's more outrageous contrivances and awkward reversals. "Along Came A Spider" is not a perfect thriller, but brother..it WORKS.
The plot starts out in a very straight-forward manner: a man with an
ambition to become criminal legend kidnaps the daughter of a congressman
right out from under the nose of the FBI. He then sends a note and a sneaker
of the girl to Detective Alex Cross, hence forcing him out of his
self-inflicted isolation, the reasons of which are explained in the opening
scene. Along with the FBI agent who was in charge of security at the scene
of the crime, he follows the clues laid out by the kidnapper in order to
find the girl. And so the story goes.
The kidnapper is portrayed by the always formidable Michael Wincott, the best serial villain on that side of the Atlantic. He should have the Best Supporting Role awards piled up in his attic. Alex Cross, whom we remember from "Kiss the Girls", and portrayed by Morgan Freeman, is just the kind of cop you like best: sincere, sympathetic, intelligent, thorough and committed. Monica Potter features as the FBI agent determined to redeem herself after she let the kidnapper escape.
This may not be a blockbuster, but this solid and underrated thriller delivers what so few of them have to offer these days: a final plot twist that genuinely surprises. It shall not be revealed here.
ALONG CAME A SPIDER / (2001) ** (out of four)
By Blake French:
In 1997, a big year for serial killer movies, Gary Fleder's "Kiss the Girls" enriched the genre with a sense of splendid atmosphere, mystery and intrigue. "Along Came a Spider," based on a novel by James Patterson, is not on that level. It is not really a sequel, but more a continuation of the adventures of Forensic Psychologist Alex Cross. It is a well-made movie with good performances and effective, unexpected plot twists and startling surprises, but so much of it is too conventional. As I watched the film, often spotting ample plot holes, I was astonished at how recycled so many of the scenes were. There is a sequence that has Cross running throughout a busy city during rush hour to deliver a ransom. The killer commands him to race from one location to the next answering pay phones. Gee, we have never seen this idea before.
Morgan Freeman reprises his role as Alex Cross who finds himself in complete grief and remorse after losing a partner during an undercover operation that we see at the beginning of the film. It starts out quick as his time of regret is shattered when he gets a phone call from a killer who just kidnapped the 12 year old daughter of the Senator (Michael Moriarty). We know this man as a school teacher named Mr. Soneji (Michael Wincott). Although under the secret service protection by Jezzie Flannigan (Monica Potter) and Ben Devine (Billy Burke), Soneji devised an articulate plan and now holds the girl captive on his boat.
I dare not reveal any more of the story. There are several ninety degree twists that play games with our mind. However, they are disposable and essentially unneeded, and only rationalize familiar clichés. Some of them are fun, but they seem to crawl out of holes in the plot. As the movie continues, it only becomes more absurd. And it is particularly vulnerable to logic, or perhaps it is just poorly edited. For instance, what if the detectives missed any of the killer's clues? Any given clue? Then what? His entire plan would be shot to hell because each clue he leaves sets the police up for the next one. So I question: why do killers always want to play elaborate cat and mouse games with detectives?
Unlike "Kiss the Girls," "Along Came a Spider" lacks suspense and thrills because there is little tension in its structure. We already know the killer's identity-but do we? The movie certainly ends up on different floors than where I thought it would land, and it works to some extent. I still think the movie could have had some more thrilling moments of suspense and chills instead of indulging in a crime case that is not really all that involving. Actually, we never really care if the killer is caught. Since the film's villain is so much more interesting than the good guys, I was actually rooting for him in some scenes. When the girl tries to escape from Soneji, I was hoping she would be caught, because I wanted Soneji to lay down more puzzle pieces for Cross.
There are nice moments here, effective scenes of action. Morgan Freeman is a little too calm and collected for such an intense situation, though. Monica Porter has a great performance, however, in one of the film's trickiest roles. "Along Came a Spider," directed by Lee Tamahori ("The Edge," "Mulholland Falls") has a lot of potential-but strays from its roots and becomes just another contrived thriller in which we have already seen countless times before.
A terrific movie. Suspense, thrills and a plot that twists and turns.
Detective Alex Cross(Morgan Freeman),on sick leave recovering from the lose
of his partner, is called back into action when the daughter of Senator
Rose(Michael Moriarty) is kidnapped from her private school. Cross is an
expert profiler and is very successful in tracking down elusive
Michael Wincott plays the savvy kidnapper. Also in the cast are: Monica Potter, Mika Boorem and Dylan Baker. Penelope Ann Miller is the Senator's wife. Very tense mood throughout with Freeman strong and steady. Probably the best acting is turned in by easy on the eye Ms. Potter.
The kidnapper has the detective hurrying to keep pace in the race to save the little girl's life. A surprising twist makes for a very satisfying finale. This thriller is just that.
I've been reading some of the comments for this movie, and think that many of you are over-critical. This is a psychological thriller, and plays it's part well. Morgan Freeman is one of my favourite actors, and he plays Detective Alex Cross very well. I enjoyed the movie on a thriller type basis. If you want to be critical about it not living up to the book's legend then fine... cause I'll be the first one to tell you that it's barely anything like the book. "Along Came a Spider" was a wonderful book and the character of Gary Soneji was compared to a spider... if anyone was wondering why the title was called that. I'm not one to bash movies unless they are horrible, and for those of you that think this movie is horrible... thats just your call. This movie is good, its just not the book. *** out of *****
Precocious kids, computers, and a famous kidnapping figure into this
elaborate thriller set in Washington, D.C. A guilt-ridden detective
(Morgan Freeman) and his Secret Service partner (Monica Potter) try to
catch a psycho who abducts the child of a prominent family. The film is
aimed at viewers who like crime puzzles and mind games. There's lots of
action and dark suspense.
The film's underlying concept is fascinating and clever. But the screenplay overlays the ingenious concept with implausible, and at times confusing, plot twists. After my second viewing I still had unanswered questions.
The screenplay had another weakness. At least seven times, it used TV news coverage of the abduction to advance the plot. Relying on TV news reporting is a stale and tiresome plot device that detracts from any film, in my opinion. Here, its repetitiveness made it even more irritating.
The film's characters were not particularly interesting. Freeman's Alex Cross was dull and plodding; Potter's Jezzie Flannigan was nasal and humorless. And the melodramatic music was manipulative and too loud.
"Along Came A Spider" does have entertainment value, derived from its suspenseful action, and cloak and dagger intrigue, enhanced by excellent cinematography and good set design. I just wish that the film's screenplay had been as clever as the concept upon which the screenplay was based.
Crime story-wise, this was nothing extraordinary but was a pretty solid
film. He isn't always like this, but Morgan Freeman does best in films
where he's the likable hero-cop. He is definitely that in this film
although his character, Alex Cross, is a little too sharp for
believability. There were just a bit too many "oh, come on's" said by
me watching this as Cross would get computer passwords with no trouble,
etc. The odds of that happening are millions-to-one but not in the
world of films. There were other examples, too, of him figuring out
things that were almost impossible.
For a tough modern-day crime story this film, for the most part, was pretty low- key with low profanity and not a lot of gore or overdone action. That was surprising considering the sordid subject matter. The tameness in here, and Freeman, make this a notch (albeit a small one) above the average thriller.
Along Came a Spider is not a bad movie all in all. It is just a generic
movie and a pretty decent generic movie at that. Lets face it, every plot
is based on clichés. What counts is how these clichés are used. The
screenwriter's challenge is this: Can he blow enough smoke and juggle his
mirrors in such a way as to make the viewer believe he is seeing something
new or, at least, enjoy the same old crap? Shakespeare did it. Dickens
it. Stephen King has made a career out of it. The problem with Along
a Spider is that no-frills clichés are all you get, basic and unadorned.
The movie's ad campaign should have featured bare white posters, a bar
and the word `Thriller' printed in the middle. Okay, I overstate. You do
get Morgan Freeman and Michael Wincott. Mr. Freeman has never given a bad
performance and doesn't start with this film. Mr. Wincott is also very,
very good. He makes you feel a little sorry for his character despite his
murderous escapades. You rather want to comfort him when the inevitable
problems start cropping up.
To make sure you are getting your moneys worth, the writers have thrown in a `Guaranteed Surprise Ending". Now some movies sport twist endings that are knockouts. These endings not only come as genuine surprises and are completely satisfying; they force you to reconsider everything that went before in the film. Think of The Sixth Sense, The Usual Suspects or The Crying Game. First, in all these movies the ending was prepared for. No matter how unexpected ultimately the twists make sense in the terms of the logic of the movie. Second, you recognize these movies as superior long before you reach the conclusion. Had The Sixth Sense ended five minutes before it did you still would have remembered the performances, the genuinely scary moments and the fantastic plot. The twist came as icing on an already fine cake. Along Came A Spider has a surprise ending because, well, 'Thrillers' have `Surprise Endings'. That's all. You probably won't guess it, but even so you won't be all that surprised. You will realize that since because such and such happens, the movie can only end in two or three different ways. Like the rest of the movie the twist is mechanical and non-descript. It's satisfying enough but it operates more as a punctuation mark than anything else.
This sounds like a pretty negative review - and I guess it is. In fairness I should say I enjoyed myself watching it. A predictable experience is not necessarily a bad experience. Sometimes all you want is a no frills `Thriller'. You have a taste in your mouth for guns and psychopaths and you've already seen Hannibal, so what do you do? Sure, a movie that sautés it's clichés with a bit more sauce and spice would be preferable, but if your only other option is a Matlock rerun, Along Came A Spider looks pretty darn good!
I just finished watching this movie and really enjoyed it. It is one of those movies where if you walk to the kitchen for two minutes, you probably missed something important. It leaves you on the edge of your seat throughout the course of the movie. The only flaw that I have with the movie is the decision to use special effects in the first few minutes of the movie. These special effects with the car were not very "special" at all. In fact, it was so unrealistic looking that it was borderline pathetic. Fortunately, this only occurred in this one scene. However, the scene with the thermos (as to not give anything away) was excellent and extremely creative. Morgan Freeman did his usual brilliant job of acting. If you like a good suspenseful thriller/mystery, this may be a good choice for you. 8.5 Stars.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a strictly routine kidnapping crime thriller. Morgan Freeman is
the profiler/cop who delves into the criminal's mind. Monica Potter is
his cop partner. It's a shame to see a marvelous actor like Freedman
wasted on trite stuff like this. He has an endearingly lumpy face and a
soothing voice, the kind of guy you wouldn't mind going to for
reassurance when you're in doubt. He can be mighty mean too, as in
Potter is as glamorous as all get-out. She looks a little and sounds a lot like Julia Roberts, a comparison that must make her physically ill by now. Unfortunately her voice is flat and toneless and her face mostly expressionless. She'd be a great model though.
The kidnapper of a senator's little girl is Michael Wincott, a very expressive face and a voice that sounds filtered through a coffee grinder. He has a bony face, rather like a weasel or ferret, but not necessarily villainous, a term that in my view is slung around much too loosely. I myself am eminently handsome yet I too have been described as "villainous." I didn't mind it from my ex wife but it can be unnerving when brought up independently in the confessional and in a shrink's office.
The script has nothing original in it. The dialog is by the numbers, the characters and their interactions not very interesting. The action, and there is a lot of action, as is standard in routine thrillers, takes place in Washington, DC, and makes use of many recognizable locations. One rather lengthy sequence is lifted straight out of the Ann Mary Deacon incident in "Dirty Harry," the writers beginning to run dry I guess. Something to do with the Lindbergh kidnapping is introduced ominously and then left to flop around, gasping, until it expires. A couple of plot twists at the end can't save this damaged script.
The most surprising thing about it is that Dylan Baker, as the head FBI man, usually a dilatory figure, has a chilling face, and begins by chewing out Freeman, a local cop, because of a turf conflict. But then, in the very next scene, he apologizes and offers to help as much as he can -- and he means it too!
It's diverting but no more than that.
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