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Along Came a Spider

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Along Came a Spider

Starring: Monica Potter, Morgan Freeman
Director: Lee Tamahori
Rated: R
RunTime: 103 Minutes
Release Date: April 2001
Genre: Suspense


*Also starring: Michael Wincott, Jay O. Sanders, Dylan Baker, Raoul Ganeev, Billy Burke, Michael Moriarty, Penelope Ann Miller



Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Some critics will tell you that despite Lee Tamahori's overplotting of Marc Moss's adaptation of James Patterson's novel, "Along Came a Spider" is one of those thrillers that allow you to check your brains at the door. Not true. Did the journalists all go for popcorn when Detective Alex Cross and Special Agent Jezzie Flannigan (nice spelling) engaged first in a discussion of psychology and then of philosophy? This may have been Phil. 101 but imagine the interest that must have been aroused in the audience with a product placement for university education. Says Cross in discussing what makes us choose our careers, "You do what you are." "Not so," replies Jezzie, every hair in place, even gram of makeup undisturbed despite the excitement of the discussion..."You are what you do." Now if that doesn't remind me of one of the last century's major conjectures of aesthetic, ethics and epistemology, what will? Every schoolkid knows that the two cops are debating existentialism vs. determinism. The first believes that we're born pretty much a blank slate, we commit ourselves to a course of action (like film reviewing), and that becomes our identity (in my case, a critic). The second--which I'm likely to buy simply because Monica Potter is prettier than Morgan Freeman--is that we're born with our career virtually written across our faces. "You have a bouncing film critic, Mrs. Karten," is what my obstetrician said--"a welcome addition to the already overcrowded field."

Does this deliberation have much to do with the theme of the picture? Ah, indeed it does, because "Along Came a Spider" tells the story of a kidnapper--a Bruno-Hauptmann- copycat-kidnapper to be specific--who whisks away a lovely girl of about twelve to his boat. He doesn't want money, he's not a perv. He wants attention. Unusual guy. He wants the media to treat him fairly, and then maybe he'll release the kid, maybe not. What we in the audience are prompted to do is to leave the theater debating whether he was born to want this notoriety or whether he first kidnapped and then had to decide whether breaking the law was his true calling.

As the villainous Gary Soneji, Briton Michael Wincott doesn't get too many witty things to say, and that's no way for a major Hollywood studio to treat a miscreant. Remember, though: he's up against Detective Cross, so named because he has one to bear (he messed up a sting operation resulting in the death of his partner), and has now plunged into a new case through which he seems to redeem himself.

The picture has the usual appurtenances of the genre-- latex masks (including one worn by a middle-school teacher that went undetected for two years), laminated hands (to avoid fingerprints during the teacher's tenure in the kind of school within which I wish I could have enjoyed my career), an assortment of guns with silencers including a 1924 Turkish musket, and of course the gold standard of tinglers: c'mon let's twist again!

Listening to Detective Cross psychologize and philosophize and guilt-trip, you'd think that, Great Scott! Maybe the title of the movie comes from a quote that he's about to give any minute: "Oh what a tangled web we weave/ When first we practice to deceive!" But no, the spider of the story is a Lindbergh nut who treats his prey to tea with honey, wraps her in a blanket when she jumps from his boat in an escape attempt, gives her blankets and allows her free access to the bathroom. Like the Monica Potter character, the little kid played by Mika Boorem never misplaces a strand of hair despite her reluctant vacation on a boat, and is not fond of her teacher despite the gratis tutoring and tea.

Speaking of afternoon tea and British-born rogues, this film is of the cookie-cutter variety not too different from Morgan Freeman's usual vehicles like "Kiss the Girls," which is also from the pen of "Spider" novelist James Patterson. Kid's kidnapped, parents give hell to the police for not doing enough, turf wars erupt, guns go off. There's an exciting chase as millions in ransom are taken to the fame-seeking scoundrel, a chase that no one could possibly believe involving calls made to pay phones around DC's Union Station with a particularly flamboyant transfer of jewelry through a completely closed subway window. What the heck: Freeman is always a pleasure to watch, ditto vanilla-pudding Monica Potter. So why not.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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