Seemingly patterned from the classic Patricia Highsmith template, this umpteenth serial killer procedural opens with a prologue fully acclimated to the motifs of its inspiration. The overripe ambiance is pure Bryan Singer when a reticent outcast hooks up with a hotshot military escapee and the two hit the road amid coy glances and strains of U2’s “Bad.” “You and I are about the same height, man,” says Shyness before kicking Strength’s backside into an oncoming truck and assuming his identity. Cut to two decades later: a spate of similar murders have occurred and a panicked Montreal PD recruits Angelina Jolie’s F.B.I. Special Agent Scott (note the masculine signifier), who draws intuitive clues by laying in a victim’s shallow grave and eating a steak dinner while staring at squalid, Muppet-like crime photos. She closes in on the murderer while fending off a rival detective (Olivier Martinez, challenging Jolie for the prize of most pursed lips in show business), flirting with a prime witness-cum-prime suspect (infantile Ethan Hawke), and deciphering the killer’s mother (Gena Rowlands, still indomitable but clearly bored), whose cruddy basement is the site of the film’s cheapest non-sequitur. Putting a woman in command is synonymous, of course, with putting a woman in peril. Much like its antagonist, Taking Lives is too eager to conform. Director D.J. Caruso and screenwriter Jon Bokenkamp deliberately abandon the psychosexual potential of a character study for more of the same old genre routine—Philip Glass’s score (basically flute and percussion leftovers from The Fog of War) lend merely noise, not credibility. Desperate to conjure third act surprises and patronize to the test audience predisposition, the plot only grows more impotent and rote, but the only real victim is the sadly floundering Jolie. Despite the serious thriller packaging (and her mounting resemblance to Isabelle Adjani, especially in distress mode), she is indeed sillier here than in either Lara Croft: Tomb Raider flicks or the lush, trashy Original Sin. Her poker-faced, Clarice Starling-with-bustier role is totally at odds with her natural camp persona. There’s a reason why the poster for Taking Lives is better than the movie itself—those lips ain’t made for talking.
- D.J. Caruso
- John Bokenkamp
- Angelina Jolie, Ethan Hawke, Kiefer Sutherland, Olivier Martinez, Gena Rowlands, Justin Chatwin, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Paul Dano
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