Murder By Numbers

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Murder By Numbers

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A multiple-choice question: If a cleverly contrived murder occurs, which of the following high-school students is most likely to be behind it? 1) The jock. 2) The cheerleader. 3) The nerd. Or 4) The bookish, withdrawn, absinthe-swilling Nietzsche disciple who gives speeches peppered with axioms like "freedom is crime." Playing a detective sent to do the work a school-wide show of hands would accomplish, Sandra Bullock stars in the lurid thriller Murder By Numbers, a film that at least acknowledges relatively early on that its suspense will not come from any attempt to conceal the killer. Instead, it divides its time between Bullock's investigation and the plotting of the aforementioned sociopath (Michael Pitt) and his more aggressive, more privileged partner in crime (Ryan Gosling). Coming off like a cross between Leopold and Loeb and the Trenchcoat Mafia, the two plan to commit the perfect murder, choosing a random victim and placing the blame on porn-loving, pot-dealing baboon owner Chris Penn. Bullock, meanwhile, has problems of her own, as new partner Ben Chaplin discovers when his committed, by-the-book approach to the job interrupts her nightly ritual of J&B, lite rock, and crime-scene photos. "She pees standing up, that one," a fellow officer says of Bullock, whose mannish manners have even earned her the nickname "The Hyena," in reference to the mock penises found on female hyenas. (Apparently, the precinct's break-room TV only gets the Discovery Channel.) Though generally an appealing presence, Bullock doesn't really do butch, much less dark-and-tormented, and she seems miscast from the start. Not that the film helps much. Both Pitt (looking like a young Matthew Sweet) and Gosling bring a surprising amount of substance to characters that could have stepped out of a Lifetime Network cautionary tale. They're good boys gone bad, led astray by heavy-metal music, homosexual urges, and German philosophy. After attempting an artistic statement with Our Lady Of The Assassins, director Barbet Schroeder eagerly plunges back into the pulp territory of Single White Female and Kiss Of Death. But at least those films offered guilty pleasures and a lot more energy than Murder, a moralizing thriller so listless that it plays out like a game of mouse and mouse.

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