The Bone Collector (1999)

High concept: Silence of the Lambs meets Whose Life is It Anyway?

The days when all serial killer movies aspired to be Silence of the Lambs or Se7en are a distant memory; now, there are films out there which would be happy to be compared with Copycat, Kiss the Girls or The January Man. To whit, The Bone Collector - which takes a couple of appealing stars, a half-way interesting premise and some of the shoddiest plotting ever attempted in a serious major studio picture and comes up with an overlong, too-often giggly hunt-the-psycho exercise.

Lincoln Rhyme (Denzel Washington), hotshot New York police forensics expert, has been paralysed since a beam fell on him at the scene of a crime. The weekend he finally persuades a doctor friend to assist his suicide when he gets back from holiday on Monday, Lincoln's old colleagues come to him with a puzzling case. Unlikely cop Amelia Donaghy (Angelina Jolie), child model-turned-beat-pounder, comes across a property developer buried in a railway yard, the flesh of his forefinger skinned away and a turn-of-the-century iron bolt lying significantly nearby in a pile of clues. Despite seizures that might leave him a vegetable and an asshole ex-boss (Michael Rooker) who constantly threatens to pull the plug, Rhyme gets on the case, manipulating his computer mouse with the forefinger that is his only moving part below the waist, and feeding the timorous Amelia instructions as she combs various subterranean, rat-infested, dripping holes where subsequent victims may or may not be still alive.

All you really need to know about the script, from a novel by Jeffrey Deaver, is that it thinks 'Lincoln Rhyme' is a credible character name, that you'll believe Angelina Jolie in uniform, that soap opera snippets ('my psychiatrist says you're not giving me what I want out of this relationship') are real dramatic depth, that a superfluity of clues (recreating a turn-of-the-century true crime book) makes for a real plot and that lone-chick-exploring-infernal-gloom scenes always work. Only the last proposition, demonstrated with the usual low-wattage torchlight and cascading water sounds, makes sense.

The characters all snarl insults at each other, except one token nice, helpful bystander who might as well scream 'mystery villain' even before he pulls a knife (hint: when an apparent walk-on character is played by a familiar face who gets his own solo title card, you can confidently point the finger of guilt). Philip Noyce's Dead Calm established him as a master of the exciting thriller, but - too many dumb Hollywood pictures like Patriot Games and The Saint later - his credit is a virtual guarantee of ordinariness. And this pays off with the most sick-making, happy families / affirmative values last scene that's come along in many a month. Silly, but not quite demented enough to be much fun.
KIM NEWMAN

First Published In: Empire (issue unknown)


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