Serial killer film flops are a dime a dozen, and Suspect Zero—a supernatural-tinged rehash of countless superior thrillers—is worth slightly less than a penny. Dishonored F.B.I. agent Thomas Mackelway (Aaron Eckhart), having been demoted to the crook-catching “minors” in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is assigned to investigate the murder of a traveling salesman which, upon inspection (and thanks to a series of helpful faxes from the culprit himself) seems to have been committed by a former federal agent named Benjamin O’Ryan (Ben Kingsley). The mysterious, nomadic O’Ryan had been part of a government experiment in “remote viewing,” an extrasensory power that allowed men to psychically watch serial killers go about their daily business and then sketch the scenes in frantic charcoal sketches, and it appears that now O’Ryan may be hunting serial killers in search of a “suspect zero”—a mythic, undetectable murderer who travels the country killing hundreds. Even excusing this employment of paranormal gibberish to embellish its police procedural narrative—and given its ridiculousness, that’s not an easy task—Suspect Zero‘s script (written by Zak Penn and Shattered Glass writer-director Billy Ray) is an embarrassing example of narrative and stylistic larceny. The diminutive, clairvoyant O’Ryan is a hybrid of J. Lo’s super-psychiatrist from The Cell and Anthony Hopkins’s Hannibal Lecter; Eckhart’s headache-plagued Mackelway is reminiscent of James Spader’s psychologically screwed-up cop from The Watcher; and the connection shared between the film’s sleuth and criminal (Mackelway, it seems, also has remote viewing abilities) is the hoariest of serial killer film clichés. More distressing, however, is the way in which director E. Elias Merhige, who respectfully and accurately recreated Nosferatu‘s dank, silent creepiness in the atmospheric Shadow of the Vampire, resorts to visually mimicking David Fincher’s Se7en whenever the opportunity arises (and, unfortunately, it arises often). The notion of a suspect zero crisscrossing Middle America without restraint is potentially terrifying, but the film can’t let go of the contrived bond shared between Mackelway and O’Ryan, the latter of whom preposterously wants to transform his remote-viewing pursuer into his doppelganger vigilante successor. As the regrettable case of Suspect Zero proves, uninspired imitation is the lowest form of thriller filmmaking.
Suspect Zero is a film of strange visual textures, a fascinating if not altogether successful experiment in montage. Michael Chapman's camerawork looks phoned in, but the transfer on this DVD edition of the film certainly does not: there's scarcely a dirt or fleck in sight, skin tones are accurate, and shadow delineation is stunning. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is equally handsome, which truly shows its muscle whenever Aaron Eckhart and Ben Kingsley have a psychotropic episode, which is actually quite often.
Suspect Zero has its pleasures. Pity the same can't be said for E. Elias Merhige's commentary track, which sounds as if he were reading from his own thesis paper devoted to the film. The director says this of the scene that finds Eckhart and Kingsley's characters stumbling across Suspect Zero: "It was very important to me to make Suspect Zero almost no man and every man, just a force that is out there insinuating itself through the averageness of the everyday world-the ordinary world that's been turned upside down after 9/11." Ummmm, riiiiiiiight. I don't know if I buy the remote viewing demonstration that puts Merhige in the hot seat but the four-part "What We See When We Close Our Eyes" is a fascinating look at the scientific and metaphysical nature of remote viewing. Rounding out the disc is an alternate ending and trailers for Suspect Zero, Enduring Love, The Machinist, and Coach Carter.
Note to E. Elias Merhige: Dude, lighten up!