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"The Bone Collector' is a dog

Published Nov. 5, 1999|Updated Sept. 30, 2005

Death by rat bite. One-finger sleuthing? Our message to creators of The Bone Collector: Give us a break.

Capturing real-life serial killers would be a breeze, if psychos worked with as much taunting carelessness as they do in the movies. The Bone Collector features a murderer who brazenly captures victims, patterns their deaths after a textbook, leaves abundant clues to the time and scene of the crimes, and stays ridiculously close to investigators.

Wouldn't a simple Son of Sam-style note be enough?

No, because since Hannibal Lecter captured our fancies, big-studio filmmakers have decreed that serial killers must display a bold, grisly panache. Leave the typical gunshots, strangulations and stabbings to amateurs. Death by rat bites and steam-scalding are more interesting. Especially if there is a macabre signature to the corpses, say, surgical disfigurement.

As movie killers become more reckless, law enforcement gets more selectively smart. The detectives trailing The Bone Collector find one body and are immediately stumped, prompting them to turn to a quadriplegic forensics investigator who hasn't worked in four years. Lincoln Rhyme (Denzel Washington) has an astounding memory for crime facts, but he can't remember that book the killer uses as a blueprint. He has a gut feeling that beat patrol cop Amelia Donaghy (Angelina Jolie) has a gift for forensics, yet never guesses that he may know the killer.

But, if these contrivances are surrounded by enough call-backs to previous, more intelligent thrillers _ Seven, Copycat, Rear Window and, of course, The Silence of the Lambs _ a filmmaker might squeeze out a decent first-weekend take at the box office. Director Phillip Noyce is interested in collecting bucks, not bones.

In times like these, an audience discovers what an actor is made of. Practically any performer can succeed with a terrific script and mindful direction. What happens when talents such as Washington and Jolie are saddled with mediocre material reveals much more about their acting skills.

Washington fares pretty well with a role that keeps him mostly immobile except for one finger (a medical miracle that allows Lincoln to use nifty computer tools) and his greatly expressive face. You can sense the actor's dedication to the project in spite of the downside. Jolie never has a chance to impress, so terribly miscast that none of the character's instincts and motivations are convincing. Other familiar faces (Queen Latifah, Michael Rooker, Luis Guzman) struggle with one-note roles.

Noyce builds admirable suspense in the first 20 minutes, when the killer uses a taxicab ruse to kidnap victims and Lincoln's medical condition is established. Amelia's intelligent response to her first homicide crime scene is a solid set piece. Then the movie turns into a horror show, with rats leaping toward the camera, gooey latex effects and not one, but two startling noises from the same source.

Cheap thrills, but somebody should remind Noyce that ticket prices are going up.

MOVIE REVIEW

The Bone Collector

Grade: D

Director: Phillip Noyce

Cast: Denzel Washington, Angelina Jolie, Queen Latifah, Michael Rooker, Luis Guzman, Mike McGlone

Screenplay: Jeremy Iacone, based on the novel by Jeffrey Deaver

Rating: R; violence, profanity

Running time: 118 min.