`Murder by Numbers' just a by the numbers movie
By JUDE SEYMOUR
Scene Movie Critic
From producer Sandra Bullock and director Barbet Schroeder comes "Murder By Numbers," which probably adopted its misleading title after deciding not enough time had passed to reuse the title "A Perfect Murder."
Not unlike the Michael Douglas film four years ago, storywriters in Hollywood are out to prove again that there are no perfect schemes to murder and that our heroes will always catch up to their suspects in the end (especially if they have to be kicked off the case to do so). Hitchcock perfected this entire storyline in one movie, "Strangers on a Train," but for those who want more of the same, this movie is not a bad way to spend two hours.
Bullock plays Cassie Mayweather, a meticulous homicide detective whose newest case not only has an unknown victim, but no apparent motive or trail of clues. Cassie's burden is saddled by newcomer Sam Kennedy (played by Ben Chaplin), who is full of theoretical case information but has no actual field experience.
Mayweather's explanation of routine procedure for Kennedy coincides with her internal questioning of that method. Her hypotheses take form first as unfounded ramblings, especially when evidence begins mounting against Ray (played by Chris Penn), the local school's janitor. After refusing to accept Ray as the murderer, Mayweather is removed from the case and begins conducting her own investigation in secret. Everyone at the police station, including her new partner, assumes Mayweather's troubled past as a former target of a homicidal maniac has finally caught up to her.
The audience, which has the luxury of being omniscient, knows Mayweather is the only one on right trail. The cop scenes in "Murder by Numbers" are cross-cut with scenes involving the "perfect" murderers. Richard and Justin (played by Ryan Gosling and Michael Pitt) planned the gruesome escape from boredom for months and are convinced that they have committed an unsolvable crime. While the movie waits for Mayweather to put all the pieces together, the script provides static lines of dialogue for these supposed intellectual maestros of murder.
Pitt authenticated his talent in last year's gritty film, "Bully," and Gosling has certainly taken well-formed strides since his stint as a Mouseketeer. It is the movie, not their performances, that has boxed them in this time. "Murder by Numbers" is a vehicle for Bullock and every character except for hers suffers from as a mere caricature.
Perhaps recognizing this inability to produce three-dimensional characters, the movie tries to supplement action sequences for character soliloquies. Since the audience is aware of the identity of the murderers, the movie has little conflict that will potentially surprise a viewer.
The ending of "Murder By Numbers" is less suspenseful than the ending to Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train" or "Dial `M' for Murder."
"Murder By Numbers" follows the status quo and order is restored to a society that virtually begs for stability — at least from their movies. In the end, "Murder by Numbers" is like the guy in the college basketball tournament pool who picks all the favorites; the strategy is dreadfully unoriginal, but the conservative approach always leads to a formidable showing and avoids the potential humiliation in being drastically different.
(two and a hald out of five Shamrocks)
Contact Jude Seymour at firstname.lastname@example.org
All Scene Stories for Thursday, April 25, 2002