- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 26, 2004

”Suspect Zero” may have gratified an impulse in Ben Kingsley to portray some kind of psycho.

His specimen is Benjamin O’Ryan, a tormented psychic. Straddling a suspenseful line between lurking menace and tragic vigilante, O’Ryan tantalizes and bedevils an FBI agent, Aaron Eckhart as Tom Mackelway, with a crime museum full of clues to the whereabouts of serial killers.

Many of these clues take the form of nightmarish illustrations and collages, easily the strongest single pictorial element in a consistently unsavory and unrewarding thriller.

They’re rivaled only by Sir Ben’s remarkable control of his facial muscles, but the acting prowess devoted to his shadowy, sporadically ferocious Ben O’Ryan is unlikely to help him surpass Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter or Kevin Spacey as the homicidal nihilist in “Seven.”

O’Ryan enters as a sinister silhouette who appears to accost and then murder a stranger on a dark and stormy night in the Southwest. The corpse bears distinctive marks of mutilation, which evidently are intended to establish a gruesome line of communication with Mr. Eckhart’s character, a bureau pariah recently banished to Albuquerque from Dallas after resorting to extralegal methods to apprehend a serial killer.

Copycat murders emphatically underline the “Follow me” theme of the messages from O’Ryan, who turns out to have a history with the bureau as a “remote viewer,” a psychic encouraged to visualize the surroundings and perceptions of wanted killers.

Uncertainty remains about whether O’Ryan has gone into private practice as an avenger targeting specific elusive monsters or degenerated into a rampaging maniac in his own right.

It’s not sufficiently intriguing or edifying to watch this mystery being resolved, especially when entrusted to a director as monotonously portentous as E. Elias Merhige.

He made a freakish debut with the stilted and disreputable “Shadow of the Vampire,” which thought it clever to pretend that F.W. Murnau cast a literal vampire in his 1920 horror classic, “Nosferatu.”

A great deal of clumsiness attends the depiction of chases by motor vehicle and then foot that place Mr. Eckhart within reach of his prey, but the homicidal denouement feels like a genuine liberation.

Viewing time with “Suspect Zero” is tantamount to detention time in a dungeon, so it comes as a relief to make for the exit and normal surroundings.

*One star

TITLE: “Suspect Zero”

RATING: R (Sustained ominous atmosphere and morbid illustrative elements; occasional profanity and violence; subplots preoccupied with child abduction and murder)

CREDITS: Directed by E. Elias Merhige. Screenplay by Zak Penn and Billy Ray. Cinematography by Michael Chapman. Production design by Ida Random. Costume design by Mary Claire Hannan. Conceptual artist: Anthony Leonardi II. Music by Clint Mansell

RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes

WEB SITE: www.suspectzero.com/


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