Morgan Freeman may be the best-loved, least-respected star in American film: The success of blockbusters such as Outbreak, Seven, and Deep Impact are usually attributed to their premises, or to Freeman's co-stars. The 1997 thriller Kiss The Girls featured Freeman's biggest starring role to date, but when it became a surprise hit, pundits credited the best-selling James Patterson novel it adapted, its trendy serial-killer plot, or the supporting performance of then-rising star Ashley Judd—everything but Freeman himself, even though he provided the class and confidence that sold a callow, manipulative, overly brutal retread to a satisfied audience. Freeman returns to his Kiss The Girls character, D.C. detective/psychologist/author Alex Cross, in another Patterson adaptation, Along Came A Spider. Again, he's captivating, as he displays intuition and deliberation while attempting to track down the publicity-seeking kidnapper of a senator's daughter. Again, however, his material fails him, as Spider deteriorates into a series of meaningless, blood-spattered plot twists. Co-star Monica Potter plays a secret-service agent who blames herself for the kidnapping of her charge. Potter's most striking feature is that she has the facial expressions and vocal inflections of Julia Roberts, but without the warmth; she's like a bleary, faxed copy of the real thing. Here, she's aided not at all by director Lee Tamahori, who fails to repeat his good work on the tough, underrated adventure movie The Edge. Tamahori overemphasizes the cold-blooded violence of Spider's villains, lingering over bullet-riddled corpses and terrorized children in a cheap attempt at shock. Worse still, he seems to have directed his stars to pause an extra beat before every line of dialogue, as though feeding them lines through an earpiece; in Potter's case, the stillness drains what little energy she possesses. (If Along Came A Spider becomes a hit, let no one speak of "the Monica Potter factor.") Through it all, Freeman uses the silence to express with his eyes what his mouth is about to say. If only his Dr. Cross weren't constantly surrounded by suave murderers and traumatized victims, it would be worth anticipating further adventures for the character. As is often the case, Freeman is the only element worth saving from this franchise.