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"THE BONE COLLECTOR"
(1999) (Denzel Washington, Angelina Jolie) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Suspense/Thriller: A paralyzed forensics detective and his feisty but reluctant protégé try to find and stop a serial killer before he strikes again.
PLOT:
Lincoln Rhyme (DENZEL WASHINGTON) is one of New York City's leading forensics specialists with a virtual encyclopedia of knowledge in his head that he taps to solve cases. He's also suicidal due to an injury in the line of duty that's left him paralyzed and bedridden for the past four years with the use of only his head and one index finger.

Assisted by his in-house nurse, Thelma (QUEEN LATIFAH) and technical guru Richard Thompson (LELAND ORSER) who keeps his high-tech bedside computer equipment operational, Lincoln hasn't had much will to continue living. That's mainly due to progressively recurring seizures that threaten to leave him in a vegetative state, a point he uses in trying to convince Dr. Barry Lehman (JOHN BENJAMIN HICKEY) to help end his life when necessary.

Things change, however, when police officer Amelia Donaghy (ANGELINA JOLIE), who wants a desk job in the youth services division, comes across a crime scene and smartly reacts to protecting and noting evidence related to the homicide. While Captain Howard Cheney (MICHAEL ROOKER) isn't happy about a beat cop acting like a detective, Lincoln takes her under his wings after sensing that she has what it takes to be a good detective.

Thus, with the help of Lincoln's former partner, detective Paulie Sellitto (ED O'NEILL), his new partner, Kenny Solomon (MIKE McGLONE), and research scientist Eddie Ortiz (LUIS GUZMAN), Amelia quickly learns the ropes and becomes Lincoln's field presence as they investigate what turns out to be the work of a serial killer who's determined to leave clues about his next killing.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
Beyond a handful of films that have an important message they wish to deliver and/or a true story to tell, most movies are simply geared as escapist entertainment of one form or another. As such, most of them aren't meant to be taken seriously, especially ones that need a healthy dose of suspension of disbelief (S.O.D.).

That's the term for accepting what would otherwise normally be considered unbelievable, such as cloned dinosaurs running amok, Superman being able to fly and rap stars and kickboxers being able to act. Of course, some times a bit of S.O.D. is needed in more "normal" films, especially for those in certain professions or locations who realize that the filmmakers have taken some (or a lot) of artistic license with their way of making a living or regarding the layout of their hometown.

Yet when certain films -- that don't fall into the sci-fi/fantasy realm -- require too much of that precious S.O.D. commodity, the effect is often calamitous. Any time those far-fetched elements appear and subsequently disrupt the flow of the proceedings and thus distract the viewer, they risk completely alienating the audience.

Such is the case with "The Bone Collector," a serial killer plotted suspense thriller that's following along in the trail blazed by far superior films such as "Silence of the Lambs" and "Seven." Based on the best- selling novel by Jeffery Deaver, screenwriter Jeremy Iacone's ("One Tough Cop," "Bound by Honor") general premise -- of detectives trying to solve a serial murderer's homicidal clues before he strikes again -- clearly isn't that farfetched, although it's hardly original.

The more specific details that follow, however, are the ones that reek of ludicrousness. For one, the film asks us to believe that a disillusioned and suicidal cop would still be on active duty after four years of being near completely paralyzed, and that his demands, at least for a while, would seemingly override those of his superiors.

Of course that pales in comparison to him choosing a reluctant and feisty beat cop, personally reassigning her to the detective division, and then having her individually front the field investigation into the killer's spree. That's not even to mention that she has no related training other than what she learned at the police academy.

Thus, we're supposed to buy into the fact that she is required to enter potentially volatile situations by herself (other police who are around to back her up are ordered to stand down) where lives could be at stake, the killer could be present, and it would be more likely than not that she'd disrupt more evidence than she'd observe or collect.

The best moment, however, at least in sheer terms of inducing groans and vast quantities of eyeball rolling, is when her mentor orders her -- via radio contact -- to cut off the hands of a just killed victim to retrieve the handcuffs around them for prints. While I'll readily admit to knowing very little about forensic science, I seriously doubt that's a common practice (before even pictures are taken of the crime scene), especially when a complete novice is asked to do it.

Of course that scene and others where the rookie detective travels alone through dark and decrepit underground sets -- that are more reminiscent of stuff you'd see in the "Planet of the Apes" movies than in your standard serial killer flick -- are designed purely to "goose" the audience. Yet director Phillip Noyce should know better.

Having previously helmed the successful suspense thriller, "Dead Calm"(as well as the Tom Clancy flicks "Clear and Present Danger" and "Patriot Games"), Noyce obviously knows a thing or two about the genre and shouldn't have to resort to such cheap and amateurish tactics. While some at our preview screening reacted the way the filmmaker intended, others obviously found the poorly conceived "logic" too distracting and thus never got caught up in the proceedings.

It wouldn't have taken many plot patches, however, to eliminate the need for as much S.O.D. as this film requires. The disabled cop, played by Denzel Washington, could have been written as still actively solving cases from his bed (and thus remaining on active duty), and could have been of higher rank to avoid the stereotypical yelling captain character played by Michael Rooker ("Cliffhanger," "Days of Thunder").

The protégé detective, embodied by the lovely Angelina Jolie, could have already been a rookie detective and the killer's clues could have indicated that he only wanted her on the case (thus eliminating the farfetched orders of her being reassigned and then working the clues by herself).

If not that, at least Noyce could have given Washington's character a concrete reason for only wanting her, and no other cops, at the crime scenes. As it stands, he simply complains that they contaminate the evidence (what, he doesn't trust his ex-partner?). Yet the film could have had some bumbling cop(s) being responsible in some way for the accident that left him paralyzed, thus giving him (and us) a believable explanation for his otherwise unbelievable orders.

What the film does have going for it, however, and what keeps it from sinking into the quickly growing S.O.D., is a terrific cast and two charismatic lead performers. As the near completely paralyzed detective, Denzel Washington ("The Siege," "Glory") is quite good, believable, and transcends the limitations that naturally stem from his character's condition. I've always believed that Washington's one of the better actors working today, and he puts a lot into this role and gets as much from it.

Playing the novice detective, the wonderfully talented Angelina Jolie ("Playing by Heart," "Pushing Tin") does a decent job, but seems somewhat miscast in the Jodie Foster/"Silence of the Lambs" type role. Although the film adds a brief, middle of the game revelation about her character being a former model (thus explaining her stunning looks -- not that policewomen aren't attractive, but you get the point), she's not always completely believable nor does she always look comfortable in the role.

Supporting performances are decent, and include the likes of Queen Latifah ("Living Out Loud," Sphere") as the detective's in-house nurse, Ed O'Neill ("Dutch," TV's "Married...With Children") as his former partner, and Luis Guzman ("Boogie Nights," "Carlito's Way") as the science specialist.

While the film isn't horrible once you get past those S.O.D. problems, it can't escape the associated illogic or a particularly weak ending where the killer's identity and ultimate motivation are finally revealed. Although Noyce throws in some red herrings regarding whom the killer might be, the actions of one character are so extreme that you either know he's the killer or figure he's not because they're too obviously a decoy.

Nowhere in the same league as the better made films of the genre, this one has some decent moments, but the number of "Oh, come on" reactions most viewers will utter will far exceed them. If not for the presence of Washington and Jolie, this would be just another lackluster, run of the mill serial killer flick. Even so, they simply can't turn it into a great or memorable one. As such, "The Bone Collector" rates as just a 4.5 out of 10.




Reviewed November 1, 1999 / Posted November 5, 1999

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