Thursday, April 5, 2001
Morgan Freeman has the whole cop thing down.
For 20 years (beginning with 1981's "Eyewitness"), the acclaimed actor has occupied a string of detective roles, culminating in the best of the lot, "Se7en." Interestingly, it's Freeman's somewhat forgettable turn in 1997's "Kiss the Girls" as detective/psychologist Alex Cross that finds the veteran actor reprising a role for the first time in his career.
The movie is intentionally unclear whether it takes place before or after the first film ("Along Came a Spider" is, however, the original novel in writer James Patterson's series). This time, Det. Cross is lured into a scheme concerning a terrorist (Michael Wincott) who has kidnapped the daughter (Mika Boorem) of a U.S. senator from an elite private school where he has been posing as a teacher. Cross pairs with government agent Jezzie Flannigan (Monica Potter), who was in charge of the facility's security, and together the two attempt to decipher the cryptic clues left by the criminal.
The good news is that "Along Came a Spider" is a slicker, more exciting film than "Kiss the Girls." And it manages to stay clear of the over-worn plot contrivance of "the serial killer" that so often entails lurid images of torture and dismemberment. Instead, the focus of this tale (by rookie screenwriter Marc Moss) is heavy on espionage and deception ï¿½ and it's fairly effective at both.
New Zealand director Lee Tamahori (responsible for the seriously underrated thriller "The Edge") displays his precision at staging fluid action sequences ï¿½ particularly in a compelling stakeout scene during the film's intro. He's not afraid to borrow heavily from other sources, though, including an entire sequence where the hero is led from one phone booth to another that is straight out of "Dirty Harry."
Tamahori keeps the pacing lively enough that he doesn't allow the audience time to linger on the many plot implausibilities ï¿½ not the least of which is how the villain gained accreditation to teach at such a highfalutin prep school guarded by the secret service. Ever heard of a background check?
The film's star also keeps viewers engrossed. With those deeply solemn eyes surrounded by a constellation of freckles (which are rather hilariously airbrushed out of the movie poster for "Spider"), Freeman adds a needed level of class to such a project. He makes the audience care about the events going on around him, because it's obvious that as an actor he is dedicating his undivided attention. Perhaps this is why he is so often asked to play police officers or other authority figures.
Unfortunately, his presence is imposing enough to make lesser players around him seem like amateurs. The comely Potter ("Head Over Heels") fares the worst. The bland blonde is consistently overmatched as agent Flannigan ï¿½ which is all the more manipulative considering how the filmmakers choose to employ her in the film's closing scenes. And other actors, including Michael Moriarty and Penelope Ann Miller as the parents of the abducted kid, are given little to do except shout or look concerned.
Wincott ("The Crow"), who rivals James Earl Jones for the lowest voice in Hollywood, does bring an intensity to the bad guy role that is essential. He judiciously avoids making the man into a raving loony ï¿½ especially during scenes opposite his kidnap victim that continue the scholarly tone he established with the child previously.
"Kiss the Girls" was probably off the radar in most people's minds as a picture that warranted a sequel. But "Along Came a Spider" weaves enough sleek action sequences and screwy plot twists to give an audience its money's worth. And, more than anything else, it has Morgan Freeman at the center of its web.