Suspect Zero

Suspect Zero, 2004, 1 ¼ stars

From suspenseful to zero in 90 minutes

From, August 27, 2004

Suspect Zero, the new serial-killer thriller starring Ben Kingsley, is aptly titled, as this formulaic FBI crime caper offers zero tension, zero thrills and zero originality.

This Seven-wannabe by director E. Elias Merhige (Shadow of the Vampire) is the story of two men, their struggle with their own personal demons and their quests to either solve murders or commit them. If that sounds a bit abstract for a creepy crime drama, you’re absolutely right, and to water down the suspense ever more, the film is so filled with trick shots, flashbacks and vague symbolism that the super thin plot stands as little chance of surviving as the serial killer’s victims.

Kingsley plays a murderer named O’Ryan, who may or may not be responsible for a much larger string of child abductions and killings. He’s also the inventor of the “Suspect Zero” theory, in which a serial killer could potentially go undetected if he killed at random, had no motive and traveled the country leaving no traces. It’s the old Hitchcock gimmick from Strangers on a Train – eliminate the motive. However, it’s clear that O’Ryan’s crimes have a deeper, even supernatural element to them, and we’re kept guessing about the nature of his deeds until about halfway through the film when the somewhat clever twist is revealed – way too early.

Kingsley is so charismatic, though poorly cast, that it’s easy to forget that Aaron Eckhart (Paycheck, The Missing) is really the star. He plays Thomas Mackelway, the FBI agent assigned to the case, but he also has a mysterious bond with Kingsley’s character, a connection that is supposed to become clearer as the movie progresses. However, like the movie’s message, the bond remains vague and muddled even as the credits role, helped along by Eckhart, who is in way over his head with a script that gives him little to work with.

Sapping even more tension from the screen is the pointless romance between Mackelway and his FBI partner, played by the sultry Carrie-Anne Moss from the Matrix series. The director goes to great lengths, through painful close-ups and slow, brooding emotional scenes, to try to get us to see the pain they are going through. But no askew camera angle or tearful breakdown can add energy to one of the most poorly conceived and boring thrillers of the year.

O’Ryan begs Agent Mackelway repeatedly to help him shut off the personal demons that drive him, but the FBI agent is too busy fighting his own past while trying to solve the murders to do that. Perhaps he could at least shut off the film before the audience becomes the final victim.

© 2004 Orlando Sentinel / Tribune Publishing / MeierMovies, LLC