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Panic Room

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Panic Room

Starring: Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker
Director: David Fincher
Rated: R
RunTime: 108 Minutes
Release Date: March 2002
Genre: Suspense

*Also starring: Jared Leto, Dwight Yoakam, Patrick Bauchau, Ian Buchanan, Ann Magnuson, Kristen Stewart

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
1½ stars out of 4

Did your interest in "Panic Room" increase when you heard that Jodie Foster had taken the lead role after Nicole Kidman dropped out? Did you get excited when you learned that David Fincher, the man behind "Se7en" and "Fight Club," was directing the thriller? If so, let me give you a valuable piece of advice.

Get your hopes down.

"Panic Room" is just as simplistic as it looks in its commercials. After the intense, nervy, multi-layered mind games of "Fight Club," I was sure that Fincher would use the premise as a means towards some bold statement, but he is on cruise control here, his ambition apparently sated by the knockout title sequence and jazzy camerawork.

The story goes like this: Recently parted from her husband, Meg Altman (Foster) and her daughter Sarah (Kristen Stewart) find a new home. The multistory townhouse is spacious and handsome, but is notable because the prior tenant, a rich, paranoid man, installed a "panic room." The steel-encased room is essentially an aboveground bomb shelter, with a stockpile of food and water, monitors showing virtually every other part of the house, a PA and a separate outside phone line.

On the night they move in (a dark and stormy one, by the way), three criminals furtively enter, at first unaware of the new tenants. Junior (Jared Leto) worked for the previous owner and learned that the man had millions hidden in the townhouse, Burnham (Forest Whitaker) helped design the panic room and Raoul (Dwight Yoakam) is a menacing third wheel brought in by Junior.

When they notice the intruders, Meg and Sarah head into the panic room and, over the PA, urge the crooks to take what they want and leave. Fat chance. The money, of course, is hidden in the panic room. Fine, so Meg and Sarah will just stay in their hidey spot and ride it out, right? Fat chance. Sarah is diabetic and her insulin is not in the room.

So the game is on, with the boys against the girls in what amounts to be a gothic version of "Home Alone."

Working off a wafer-thin premise, writer David Koepp tries to keep things interesting, but most of his plot devices play like contrivances. The cinematography is wildly inventive; gliding over banisters to slink through lower floors, slipping into tiny holes, etc., but, given the obvious plotline, it comes off as mere doodling (well, pretty nifty doodling).

As for the cast, Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart make a credible mother/daughter team, though there is little for them to do other than look grim, saucer-eyed or determined. Likewise, Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto and Dwight Yoakam are generic menaces, although Whitaker's mournful eyes suggest a depth of character beyond the obvious.

"Panic Room" offers some thrills and chills, but nothing that resonates. Hours after leaving the theater, the only images that stuck with me were those of the elegant title sequence. What a letdown.

Copyright 2002 Edward Johnson-Ott

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