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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Taking Lives (review)

Cheesy Poof

It may feel like we’re living in the Middle Ages at times these days, but this is the 21st century. Isn’t it? The scientific method has, for the most part, been accepted as a sound way of understanding the world. At the very least, crime entertainment has long since moved past the “let’s burn the wacky, voodoo-practicing criminal profilers at the stake” stage. Hasn’t it? Hasn’t every movie cop at this point seen The Silence of the Lambs and Law & Order: Criminal Intent and The X-Files? Are not profilers already so accepted that they’ve become cliché? Is it plausible any longer for a movie cop to scoff at the idea of creating a psychological profile of an unknown, hypothetical suspect?
Plausibility, alas, is not a central feature of Taking Lives, even as FBI-agent-versus-serial-killer movies go. The scoffing cop, Paquette, one Montreal’s supposed finest, is played by Gallic supermodel-esque hunk of manliness Olivier Martinez — if you like that kind of thing — in designer clothes, even though we all know real cops all look and dress like Wojciehowicz from Barney Miller. But that’s still on the low end of the scale of absurdity here. We’re also asked to accept that the irresistible hunk of manliness doing duty here is not Martinez — whom at least Diane Lane could get all hot and bothered about — but that black hole of charisma, Ethan Hawke.

You see, Angelina Jolie (Beyond Borders, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life) is an FBI special agent summoned to the Great White North to assist in a serial-murder case, because she’s a genius or something. Her “insights” are, for the most part, so baldly obvious that you’d have to be Barney Fife not to deduce them — she concludes that an extremely neatly dug grave means the killer chose the spot and came prepared with, you know, a shovel — but she does actually lie down in that precise grave and also sleeps with gruesome crime-scene photos, so she’s creepy and profound and scares all the boys off. Except, apparently, Hawke (Training Day, Snow Falling on Cedars). He’s a key witness in the latest murder, and we’re meant to believe that he is so intensely seductive that she cannot resist him. Which would be laughable if it weren’t so boring — is there a more flavorless actor than Ethan Hawke working today? Above the age of puberty? I didn’t think so. Hawke is to acting what Velveeta is to triple-cream brie.

And cheese does become the operating principle of the flick after the big “surprise” twist, which you’d have to be Wojciehowicz not to guess from the outset. Perhaps if we were as enamored with Jolie or Hawke as their characters are supposed to be with each other, we could be distracted from the patently evident just as Jolie’s agent is, but that would require some chemistry between them and some allure on their own individual parts. But while they’re rolling around her hotel room having icky sex the way only characters in bad movies do — smashed lamps, torn clothes, that kind of thing — we’re left waiting for someone onscreen to realize the potential that’s gone unfulfilled. Like how the killer steals the identities of the people he kills and *gasp* uses their charge cards — “Credit fraud? That’s worse than murder!” as the still 20-minutes-into-the-future Max Headroom styled it — but never does anything really evil such as use their email accounts to send spam. Like how cop Leclair’s name kinda sounds like “eclair,” which makes you think of doughnuts, which makes you think of cops, and how, as played by the adorably Gallically rumpled Tchéky Karyo (The Core, The Good Thief), Leclair is still way sexier than Martinez and Hawke put together and topped with jelly doughnuts and no one notices this. Like how there’s a whole subplot having to do with identical twins that utterly fails to latch onto the stolen-identity thing, and how could anyone making a cheesy movie about twists and stolen identities not go the “I’m not me, I’m my identical twin” route?

It’s just sad when people can’t even get bad movies right.


MPAA: rated R for strong violence including disturbing images, language and some sexuality

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
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