The Bone Collector (1999)
Directed by Phillip Noyce
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Denzel Washington, Queen Latifah, Ed O'Neill, Mike McGlone, Leland Orser, Michael Rooker, Luis Guzman, John Benjamin Hickey.
1999 118 minutes
Rated: (for violence, profanity, and gore).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 5, 1999.
Around this time two years ago, the public was blessed (or cursed) with "Kiss the Girls," one of the most ludicrous and dull films in the Serial Killer genre this decade. Beating it out for that shameful title is Phillip Noyce's "The Bone Collector," which bears more than a passing similarity with the former. Both star a highly regarded actor (Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington) who sets out to stop the killer, as well as a resourceful, young woman (Ashley Judd, Angelina Jolie) who is forced, in one way or another, to take matters into her own hands. Both films are so illogically plotted that you eventually give up attempting to care about the characters and situations, while the climax relies on that annoying standby, the Talking Killer cliche, in which the culprit's identity is revealed and instead of doing off with the main characters right away, conveniently chats with them until someone shows up to stop him from acting out his dirty deeds. One of the things that made 1995's "Se7en" one of the most disturbing, memorable films in the genre in the last few years is because it took the conventions and stood them on their head, never going for what was to be expected by a mainstream audience. Just the thought of the frighteningly devastating conclusion still has the power to bring chills up my spine, while the thought of the culmination in "The Bone Collector" just makes me want to close my eyes and shake my head in disbelief.
After an enthralling opening credits sequence that owes most of its effectiveness to the subtly creepy music score by Craig Armstrong, things go downhill--fast. Lincoln Rhyme (Denzel Washington) is one of New York City's leading forensic cops until he becomes almost fully paralyzed in a freak accident on a crime scene. Forced to spend the rest of his life in a bed, Lincoln is cared for by his sassy, dedicated nurse Thelma (Queen Latifah), but doesn't see much reason for living anymore. When a grisly homicide is documented by model-turned-novice-cop Amelia Donaghy (Angelina Jolie), Lincoln is so impressed with her skills that he asks her to take over the case, despite her area not being forensics. Amelia reluctantly agrees, but soon has built a close rapport with Lincoln, who constantly is pushing her to do things she doesn't want to do, but that he knows will make her a better person in her profession. Meanwhile, the body count gradually builds up, with the killer posing as a taxi driver who, instead of taking his customers to their preferred destinations, drives them to their deaths.
"The Bone Collector" is a film that so closely follows the blueprint for the generic Serial Killer movie, you question its reason for being made at all. Offering no originality (unlike 1995's "Copycat"), no realism (unlike 1990's "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer"), no intelligence (unlike 1991's "The Silence of the Lambs"), no surprises (unlike "Se7en"), and not one character we get to know well enough to care about (unlike all of the above), the film is a lifeless product that is tiresomely directed by Noyce (who helmed such strong films as 1992's "Patriot Games" and 1994's "Clear and Present Danger"). Noyce's heart doesn't seem to be in his latest picture, nor does screenwriter Jeremy Iacone's, and no wonder. More than anything, "The Bone Collector" is the latest in a never-ending parade of movies that extract the feeling of "been there, done that" in the viewer.
What can you say to Denzel Washington other than, "you got what was coming to you." Appearing in the far superior 1998 Serial Killer movie "Fallen," Washington apparently saw a reason in being in another the following year, and he was bound to stumble on a rotten apple sooner or later. Washington is a dynamic performer, but has nothing to do here, literally and figuratively. Since his character of Lincoln is paralyzed, he spends 99% of his screen time lying in a bed, without being able to move anything but his head, shoulders, and one finger. A challenge for any actor, to be sure, but Washington comes off as nothing more than a distraction to the storyline at hand, and he isn't given enough worthwhile material to rise above being merely an afterthought.
One of the most exciting young actresses to appear in the last couple years, Angelina Jolie was a standout in last year's touching "Playing by Heart," and a scene-stealer in last spring's "Pushing Tin," but her luck has momentarily run out with this deadly project. For one, the stunning Jolie should have fired her makeup person and hair stylist because she looks downright ragged here, and her performance seems rather muted and cold. Try as she might, Jolie is miscast in the role and isn't able to pull it off, unlike Ashley Judd in "Kiss the Girls," who was the one saving grace.
In the only notable supporting role, Queen Latifah is sorely wasted to the point where I am tempted to hunt down the filmmakers and slap them for throwing her surprising talents away. Thelma is the sole character I liked, and yet this is due completely to Latifah's bright presence, as her character is one-dimensional and stale. Ed O'Neill (TV's "Married...With Children"), Mike McGlone (1996's "She's All That"), and Leland Orser (1998's "Very Bad Things") all show up and make zero impression, while Michael Rooker, as shady Capt. Howard Cheney, is literally pointless in every way, giving off brooding looks at every turn just so we will think he is the killer. Sorry, folks, but the first rule in this type of film is that the character who is most obviously the killer is invariably just a red herring.
There is nary a sign of freshness in the whole overlong 118 minutes it took for "The Bone Collector" to reach its end. Someone who sees a lot of movies usually hopes, or at least should, that a film headed for oblivion will make a sudden U-turn and either get better or become more entertaining (even if it is on the "so-bad-it's-good" level). Not this time. The lack of enthusiasm for this misguided project shines through in every performance and in director Noyce's unsatisfying direction, and, therefore, it never has the ability to involve you, or make you give one iota about the proceedings. "The Bone Collector" is strictly cut-and-paste filmmaking, and it doesn't even do a respectable job at that, either.
©1999 by Dustin Putman