A couple of clever turns don’t rescue this movie from its tired plot, laughable dialogue, and disastrous casting. James Spader plays Campbell, a burned-out FBI agent from Los Angeles who was unable to catch a serial killer and now lives on disability in Chicago, taking massive doses of pharmaceuticals and talking to a therapist (Marisa Tomei). Griffin, the serial killer (Keanu Reeves) follows Campbell to Chicago and starts sending him photos of his next victims, daring him to find them before it is too late. It seems that the killer is less interested in killing than he is in having someone pay attention to him.
In other words, this is the kind of serial killer who only exists in movies, more a plot device than a character. Any characteristic he has or is described as having is jettisoned without explanation when necessary for the purposes of the plot. Reeves can be effective in many kinds of roles, and can convey a spookiness that plays as shyness in one part or nihilism in another. But he fails to convey any sense of menace or evil. The movie would have been much more effective if Reeves and Spader had switched parts, with Reeves the damaged cop and Spader the obsessive killer. Tomei is onscreen long enough to show us how much more she can do. It is obvious from the beginning that her character is there to give Campbell — and the audience — a potential victim to care about. But she manages to convey such warmth, compassion, and charm, that despite ourselves, we do care about her.
The movie tries to show us that the cop and the killer have a lot in common. Both watch their prey, keeping track of every detail. Both seek an appreciative audience. Each fascinates the other. But the last half hour becomes ludicrous as Campbell engages in Stupid Movie Behavior #1 (things people do in movies that make absolutely no sense whatsoever but if the characters did what any intelligent person would do there would be no plot): after working closely with the local police every step of the way, Campbell goes to meet with Griffin alone, without telling anyone where he is. Then, when they do get together, the dialogue becomes so idiotic (Griffin tells Campbell that he gives Campbell’s life meaning, and Campbell responds, “Do you know how many serial killers there are in Chicago? Eight!”) that the movie loses any tension that it had.
Parents should know that this is a very violent movie about a serial killer who preys on vulnerable young women. It has some gorey deaths and crime scenes. There is some strong language. Campbell abuses pharmaceutical drugs and another is skeptical about his ability to perform under their influence. It has sexual references, including references to adultery, strong language, smoking, and drinking.
Families who see this movie should talk about Griffin’s feeling that it is important to be noticed, and his view that he and Campbell need each other.
People who like this movie will also enjoy the vastly superior “No Way to Treat a Lady,” also about a serial killer who develops a relationship with the cop who is working on the case.