Along Came a Spider
Along Came a Spider

USA, 2001. Rated R. 105 minutes.

Cast: Morgan Freeman, Monica Potter, Michael Wincott, Dylan Baker, Jay O. Sanders, Michael Moriarty, Penelope Anne Miller, Raoul Ganeev, Billy Burke, Mika Boorem
Writers: Marc Moss, based on the novel by James Patterson
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematographer: Matthew F. Leonetti
Producers: David Brown, Joe Wizan
Director: Lee Tamahori


Grade: C- Review by Carlo Cavagna

H ere's the thing about plot twists: it's pretty easy to surprise an audience--if you don't worry about things like plausibility and narrative consistency. You simply establish characters and a story, and then, usually near the end of the film, make a 180 degree turn away from what you've spent the whole film establishing. Your hero is now your murderer. Your victim is now your victimizer. Your main conflict is now a red herring. It's easy. You just change the rules--unilaterally, without notice.

If a plot twist is not to feel cheap, it should actually deepen the established story and characters instead of abandoning them. That's far trickier. If the twist is to be a surprise, the audience must not suspect one is coming; however, if it is to be taken seriously, the seeds for it must be woven into the narrative from the beginning. There must be clues, but the twist must not give itself away. A good plot twist requires sound casting decisions and directorial skill, like in The Sixth Sense. It requires things Along Came a Spider does not have.

The whole film feels cheap. It's strictly formulaic. In fact, Along Came a Spider is a sequel of sorts. It features the same central character as Seven knock-off Kiss the Girls, forensic psychologist Alex Cross (Morgan Freeman), who still hasn't learned to call for backup before going after the bad guy. Apparently he needs no backup, because he's forensic psychologist Alex Cross, and he has a PhD.Morgan Freeman

Instead of searching for kidnapped women, Cross is tracking kidnapped children in this installment. Megan (Mika Boorem), the young daughter of a Senator (Michael Moriarty), is taken from her exclusive private school despite the fact that it's under heavy Secret Service protection. The kidnapper (Michael Wincott), desiring to be appreciated for pulling off a new Crime of the Century (he is obsessed with the Lindbergh baby), involves Cross in the investigation. Cross quickly deputizes Special Agent Jezzie Flannagan (Monica Potter), who, as the head of the Secret Service detail at Megan's school, feels responsible. And the hunt begins. It includes your usual forensic investigation, your usual verbal cat and mouse on the telephone, your usual escape attempt by the kidnapping victim, and your usual ransom drop.

Morgan Freeman is the only reason Along Came a Spider is watchable. Although his roles and performances are too similar to one another (and I still can't figure out what he thought he was doing in Nurse Betty), he is likeable and certainly talented. On the other hand, Monica Potter, whose previous credentials include seminal films like Patch Adams and Head Over Heels, can't act. She just can't. And, typically, she's too young for her job description. The supporting cast, which includes Moriarty, Dylan Baker, and Penelope Anne Miller, is fine, but Wincott, who was quite riveting in The Crow and Alien Resurrection, is poorly used. He shows a little more range than one might expect, but he doesn't get to show off that memorably deep, gravelly voice. Wincott, whose other credits include Basquiat, The Three Musketeers, 1492: Conquest of Paradise, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (also with Freeman), Strange Days and The Doors, seems a bit out of place in a humdrum contemporary thriller.

Director Lee Tamahori delivers a workman-like effort, but it's difficult not to compare the result here with The Edge, in which he managed to make a thoughtful, visually beautiful film while terrorizing us with a single grizzly bear. He achieves a lot less with a lot more here, but then again, he doesn't have an intelligent Mamet script to work from. Tamahori is just a hired hand like everyone in the cast, brought in to package a slick product conceived in the executive conference room of some Hollywood studio, not in the mind of an artist.

Review © April 2001 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2001 by Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.

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