Taking Lives: a serial time-killer.

Reviews of the latest films.
March 19 2004 2:52 PM

Killer Filler

Taking Lives, the latest pap from the slasher genre.

Still from Taking Lives
Angie's one messed-up cookie

Oh, goody: a new Angelina Jolie serial-killer movie, name of Taking Lives (Warner Bros.). We haven't had one of those since The Bone Collector, back before her Oscar and that weird period where she and Billy Bob were wearing lockets around their necks with each other's blood. (Have those turned up on eBay yet?) Directed by D.J. Caruso: Didn't he do that Salton Sea picture? Strange thing about The Salton Sea—a not-disreputable writer I know thought it was a towering masterwork and voted for it over and over at a year-end critics' society meeting. Every time his ballot came around, it got big laughs. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and watched it again last week, thinking maybe I'd let a classic go by: It does have a nice methamphetamine buzz and Val Kilmer's first give-a-shit performance in years and a gonzo bit by Vincent D'Onofrio as a cartoon-psycho drug dealer with no nose. But it's still one crapola revenge melodrama.

Anyway, Taking Lives looked like a decent serial time-killer, what with Wacky Angie and Ethan Hawke, two casualties of horrific Hollywood breakups (Ethan's reported infidelities on the Taking Lives shoot got him in hot water with Uma), plus former booze-hound and failed Julia Roberts-fiance Kiefer Sutherland—now, after 24, sobriety, and marriage, the relatively stable presence on the set. Top-flight moody French actors imported to play Quebecois detectives. Autopsies. Gory murder-scene pix. Yummy. Let's go.

Advertisement

Angelina is first seen stretched out in an open grave. She's an FBI profiler and is trying to get into the killer's head. The killer, meanwhile, is trying to get into Angie's head and will later tell her, "We are the same"—a line that could better be said of serial-killer screenwriters. Also, most serial killers are more grounded than Angie. She spends hours and hours staring at autopsy photos, posting them above her bed and spreading them around her while she eats. Later, she says that you can tell who the psychos are because they look at rape and murder pictures as casually as they eat. That implicates her, and it implicates me since I kept eating my popcorn.

Ethan Hawke is a witness who might be the target of the killer. An interesting conundrum: Is he acting badly, or is he the killer and therefore pretending (badly) to be someone he's not? Kiefer is presented as the likely killer in the first 15 minutes, which means he's the only one in the cast who you can safely write off. Angelina is good, but those gelled locks dangling artfully in front of her eyes must interfere with her powers of observation. My own were considerably heightened by the sight of those knockers unsheathed.

Caruso is not a negligible filmmaker. He comes up with two nifty scares, one involving a clever fake-out: The music begins to BUILD so that you know that something HORRIBLE IS COMING. Then you get something a little horrible. Then when you've exhaled and you go, "Was that it?" you get a BIG BOO! Caruso is a much more resourceful director than this material deserves, but I resented being two steps ahead of the genius profiler and the genius serial-killer. Of course, I am a serial killer of serial-killer movies. And you and I, dear reader of serial-killer reviews of serial-killer movies, we are the same.

David Edelstein is Slate's film critic. You can read his reviews in "Reel Time" and in "Movies." He can be contacted at slatemovies@slate.com.