NOW PLAYING: Along Came A Spider

Posted: Monday, April 16, 2001

My dad called me from Texas the other night and got the answering machine. Beep "How do you know when to talk on these things? Oh. Hi, I was just calling to see how y'all are. And I wanted to go see that Spider movie. But I need to know if Morgan Freeman's the bad guy. It looked kinda good, but I'm not going if he's bad in it. Ok. Talk to you later." Well, my father should be pleased to hear that neither Morgan Freeman nor the movie is bad at all.

Morgan Freeman plays detective Alex Cross, a name that may sound familiar. It should. Freeman is reprising a role he introduced in Kiss The Girls a few years back. Both Kiss and Spider are novels by James Patterson, who, I understand, has several books featuring Cross. Technically, Spider is a prequel to Kiss but it really doesn't make any difference. There is very little similarity between the two movies and one does not have to have seen one to see the other.

After a fairly thrilling opening scene, Spider settles into its storyline. Mr. Soneji, a teacher at a prestigious academy, has kidnapped the daughter of a senator. Soneji is obsessed with the Lindbergh kidnapping and, in an effort to gain the kind of notoriety that went along with that earlier crime, he involves noted police profiler Dr. Alex Cross. The film is able to elevate itself from this fairly simplistic premise by packing the movie with twists and turns and keeping the action moving at a pretty good clip. One thing that is perhaps a little misleading from the preview is the scare-factor. This movie isn't really scary at all. I don't think it's meant to be. There are a couple of spots that make you jump, but mostly it's a cat and mouse game as opposed to a cat and brutal serial killer game. It's more like Ransom than Kiss The Girls.

Morgan Freeman does his usual good job in this role, although it feels at times as though he were just walking through the part. I really enjoy his work, and I think he should try something more challenging next time. He can play Alex Cross in his sleep. That said, one of the things I love about Morgan Freeman is that he never seems to have any cheesy lines. Everything that comes out of his mouth seems weighty and serious and appropriate for the scene. I wonder if the writers try harder on his lines because they know who they are writing for, or if the script gets changed once he gets on the set.

The rest of the acting is good, if not stellar. Michael Wincott (The Crow, Robin Hood) is always a good bad-guy. With his gravelly voice, I don't know what else he'd ever play. Sometimes he tends to go a little over the top, but in this movie he keeps it subtle and under control. Monica Potter, as Cross' partner, is a little too under control, however. She's just kind of bland; milquetoast, and I think this role needed someone with a little more fire. Surprising for me was young Mika Booreem who plays the daughter of a senator and is the focus of the kidnapping. Maybe it's because her character is given more to do than just cower in a dark corner, but she nearly steals the show.

The story, as I said, is solid. There's lots of intrigue and action, and you certainly won't be bored. On the other hand, it's not incredibly original. It's your basic by-the-numbers kind of movie, and it's too bad Hollywood can't bring itself to alter the formula. I feel like screenwriters are trying, but instead of coming up with new and inventive ways to tell the same old story, they are using the "Oh my god, I never would have guessed!" plot twist as a band-aid. I enjoy the shock as much as the next guy, but it's not a fix-all. Nevertheless, Spider does a good job with its twist, and you should be pretty surprised.

As a final note, I have to give kudos to James Patterson for the title. It seems like every movie I watch is named something dumb and meaningless. Exit Wounds, Someone Like You, Down To Earth . . . blecch. Now, Along Came A Spider, that's cool. There are all kinds of images that arise, plus everyone has the Little Miss Muffett reference that strikes a chord. Kiss the Girls was also a cool title, and it makes me wonder if all his books are named from nursery rhymes. That'd be creepy. All in all, Spider is a good movie. It's entertaining, exciting, and definitely keeps your interest. I think we can forgive it for being a little bit formulaic and predictable. And, if it does as well as Kiss The Girls did, this may not be the last run-in between Dr. Cross and Mother Goose. Grade: B

Along Came A Spider is rated R for language and violence.

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