I have an undying love of true crime movies. There is something automatically fascinating about a disturbing story of true crime when there is the added effect that it is at least loosely based on real events. It's one of the most important things that makes me love movies like Zodiac or In Cold Blood or Dog Day Afternoon or even Silence of the Lambs, even though the real life element of that one is, ah, a little less specific. The Lodger, as you know, was Alfred Hitchcock's first major film, made in 1927, well before sound. The new Lodger has a tough time justifying itself, but it is not entirely without effect.
The movie tells the story of a mysterious recurrence of Jack-the-Ripper-style murders, although it takes the crimes out of the London fog and replaces it on the wet streets of Los Angeles. A series of brutal prostitute murders have been determined to be exact replicas of very specific Ripper murders, even positioning the bodies the same places and making similar efforts in geography. Complicating matters is the fact that a man has already been jailed and executed for the murders, which unfortunately start happening again.
Meanwhile, an unhappy housewife across town is routinely abandoned by her deadbeat husband, who repeatedly tells her basically to take her medication and leave him alone, and by the way, why can't she make herself useful and find a lodger for that old shed in the backyard. Money doesn't grow on trees, woman.
She does find a lodger, one who acts sufficiently mysterious and suspicious, and for a while the movie turns into your standard murder mystery thriller, although I was glad to see the addition in the third act of the clouding issue of an unstable mind. It's a story-telling technique that is very easy to screw up, but when it's used right it can add a whole different experience to an otherwise straight-forward and uninteresting story.
It is not used here as well as I've seen it used before (at least in originality), but it's true that it adds a much-needed extra layer to an otherwise insufficient story. Unfortunately, because the rest of the movie is a murder mystery the style of which is far too familiar by now, the instability idea seems like an effort to add something to an otherwise weak movie, and it's just not enough to make the movie at all memorable. In fact, some moviegoers will find it outwardly laughable.
Alfred Molina plays a detective who is striving to solve the case, although I would expect an actor of his caliber to be spending his time on better movies than this. Unfortunately, despite his performance and a number of other mildly impressive roles, the movie is also peppered with horrible acting and ridiculously badly written characters.
The lodger himself, first of all, is of the variety that acts extremely suspicious in ways that could only possibly happen if he were really the killer. When the wife accidentally discovers him burning clothing in the barbecue, he calmly explains that he was just trying to dry them. In a good mystery, perfectly normal behavior is made to be suspicious by the context of other actions, the music, the performances, etc.
Who the hell dries pants on a barbecue?
There is also the issue of a psychologist who analyzes the police's evidence about the mysterious killer, and offers an explanation that is little more than a lot of wordy nonsense that sounds like it was thrown together by a Psychology undergrad at UCLA with no other purpose than to sound impressive. Sadly, it doesn't. The ex-wife of Molina's character is also a mental case herself who, for reasons that I won't reveal, is unable to stand the sight of her husband. When she does at one point in the film, she descends into a hysterical fit of screaming which, had it gone on for about another three seconds, would have been enough for me to give up and fling the DVD out the window.
But the movie's biggest problem is that it comes off as a standard mystery, the first half of which is designed to show why everyone is a suspect and the second half designed to deliver a thrilling finale that, when it comes, just isn't all that thrilling. The murder investigation is full of movie-miracles (like a footprint which is leaked to the press and printed "actual size" on the front page of the newspaper) but the real letdown doesn't come until the final scene, lifted directly out of Psycho and full of psychobabble nonsense. And the psychologist's analysis, believe it or not, takes place before the actual arrest. Fastest mental analysis ever!! But it's not so much that the psychological explanation doesn't make sense as much as the fact that the reasons given may send your palm(s) flying rapidly to your forehead. So be advised
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