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Suspect Zero

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Suspect Zero

Director: E. Elias Merhige
Runtime: 100 minutes
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Ben Kingsley, Carrie-Anne Moss

Maybe someday someone will make a serial-killer movie that dodges cliché by featuring an investigator not tortured by the job of hunting murderers. Walking through life with a blithe attitude, untouched by all the carnage, he or she could simply do the job without complaint, then go home, warm up some leftovers, and watch Will & Grace. Suspect Zero is not that movie. As a recently demoted FBI agent returning to the field after a six-month suspension, star Aaron Eckhart has let the job get to him, and he has the sleepless nights and frequent migraines to prove it. Other elements familiar to anyone who's seen a suspense film since Seven soon come out to play, as well, and Suspect Zero banks on sustaining interest with a supernatural twist that doesn't twist much at all.

Demoted from Dallas to Albuquerque, Eckhart shows up at the office, plops a copy of Understanding Dreams (surely standard issue for all field operatives) on his desk, and immediately starts to brood. His sulk doesn't last for long. When the body of a traveling salesman shows up carefully positioned across the Arizona/New Mexico border, Eckhart finds himself in pursuit of a killer who possesses either a) amazing psychic abilities and the desire to use them to attract attention through the meaningful placement of victims' bodies, or b) a GPS unit and a wicked sense of humor.

The answer turns out to be "a," and the perpetrator, naturally, turns out to be acclaimed actor/creep-for-hire Ben Kingsley. His motives, on the other hand, remain a mystery until late in the film, except to anyone who's stumbled across Suspect Zero's suspense-spoiling trailer. (Assuming something already rotten can be spoiled.)

E. Elias Merhige's last directorial project was 2000's stylish, spooky, one-joke film Shadow Of The Vampire; aided by cinematographer Michael Chapman, he again shows he understands how to frame a shot memorably. Pacing and coherence, on the other hand, elude him. He devotes long stretches to nightmare-vision sequences that add nothing and suggest nothing so strongly as failed music videos—Suspect Zero might be the first film that looks to The Cell for inspiration. Given nothing to do, Carrie-Anne Moss looks on from the sidelines as the film halfheartedly toys with the tired old notion that only a thin line separates the dogged investigator and the compulsive killer. She looks bored, and she should.