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(2002) (Clint Eastwood, Jeff Daniels) (R)

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Drama/Thriller: A retired FBI profiler agrees to investigate an unsolved murder after being contacted by the victim's sister and learning that his donor heart came from her.
Terry McCaleb (CLINT EASTWOOD) is a retired FBI profiler who's focusing more on recovering from his recent heart transplant than on an unsolved serial murder case from two years back where the Code Killer taunted him.

Told to take it easy by his cardiologist, Dr. Bonnie Fox (ANJELICA HUSTON), Terry plans on hanging out on his boat-cum-house, but an unexpected visit from Graciella Rivers (WANDA De JESUS) changes all of that. It seems that she's the sister of a convenience store murder victim and wants him to help find the killer. He's initially reluctant, but when he learns that his donated heart came from that victim, he feels that he must at least look into the case.

LAPD detectives Ronaldo Arrango (PAUL RODRIGUEZ) and John Waller (DYLAN WALSH) are reluctant to help due to their antagonistic history with him, but do show him the surveillance camera footage that caught the murder on tape. Collecting some clues from that, Terry then sets out to see his good friend Jaye Winston (TINA LIFFORD) who works for the Sheriff's department and learns that another similar murder took place two weeks prior to his case.

With the aid of marina neighbor Buddy Noone (JEFF DANIELS) who drives him around, Terry starts digging for more clues, interviewing witnesses such as James Lockridge (RICH HOFFMAN) and interrogating potential suspects such as Russian worker Bolotov (IGOR JIJIKINE). As he does so, he gets to know Graciella and her young nephew, Raymond (MASON LUCERO), and feels an increased urgency to solve the case.

As he tries to do just that, he slowly begins to piece together the clues that soon lead him into an unexpected discovery about the killer's identity and true motive.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
One of the things aspiring filmmakers are told at some point in their budding careers is that every story that could be told has already been done. That obviously refers to the general plot or theme rather than the specifics of either. Yet, if there's any sub-genre that's been run into the ground, it's the serial killer one.

In most any given example of one, a cop, FBI agent, private eye or general do-gooder tries to find and stop a serial killer who's either playing games with them and/or has some sort of unique killing trait or reason for his or her behavior. Accordingly, and since there are so few novel ways left for such a tale to be told and/or play out, there's little in the way of surprises, twists or unpredictability to catch most viewers off guard.

Such is the case with "Blood Work," a mostly competently made if somewhat pokey film that marks the 12th time Clint Eastwood has directed and produced a film in which he also starred. Working from screenwriter Brian Helgeland's ("A Knight's Tale," "L.A. Confidential") adaptation of Michael Connelly's best-selling novel, Eastwood has fashioned a protagonist more in line with his true age (compared to that in the novel).

Even so, it's not long into the film before we see him trying to run down what's presumably a much younger suspect. At that point, viewers are apt to roll their eyes, groan or shuffle around in their seats while thinking that they're in for a vanity piece where performers refuse to play their age. Unfortunately for him but fortunately for the audience, Eastwood's Terry McCaleb character nearly falls dead from a heart attack and we realize not only that the filmmaker is wise enough to avoid the pampered ego bit, but also that the heart condition (and resultant transplant and other related material) is the new angle for the sub-genre.

Of course, being a Clint Eastwood movie, that doesn't relegate him to playing the character from bed. It's not long before he's back on the street, grimacing, squinting and irritating his cardiologist in ways that only an Eastwood character can. Having appeared in more than 50 films, the actor has that part down pat, and he's no stranger to playing the hero who hunts down the villain.

In fact, this one's somewhat similar to "In the Line of Fire" and even an AARP version of "Dirty Harry" and the star brings the usual but still effective Eastwood persona and mannerisms to the proceedings. In short, his presence and essence lift the film about the material's otherwise worn and mundane qualities.

As far as that's concerned, Eastwood and Helgeland thankfully and smartly avoid showing us the killer or his behind the scenes work for much of the film. By doing so, they at least offer some mystery to the story as we're introduced to a number of potential suspects who might be the main perp. That's not to say, however, that the killer's identity or modus operandi will come as a shock. Some/many viewers will probably figure it out long before the big revelation. They'll probably also see the ensuing but standard Hollywood-ish conclusion that's the weakest part of the film (beyond Eastwood's unnecessary decision to telegraph certain visual clues and/or return to them in flashback to remind viewers of what we earlier saw quite prominently).

Before all of that, the story unfolds in a serviceable if occasionally somewhat slow and labored way that older viewers might appreciate (since it plays out like a film from decades ago). Younger viewers, however, will likely find the offerings too pokey and will likely also laugh - as they did at our promotional screening - at the film's brief May-September romantic interlude.

Beyond the always reliable Eastwood, the performances are pretty much solid across the board. Except for the ill-advised love scene, Wanda De Jesus ("Ghosts of Mars," "Flawless") is good as the murder victim's persistent sister, which also holds true for Tina Lifford ("Joe Somebody," "Pay it Forward") and Paul Rodriguez ("Ali," "Rat Race") as different tempered detectives on the opposite side of district lines and willingness to help the protagonist. Anjelica Huston ("The Royal Tenenbaums," "Agnes Browne") plays the hero's stern cardiologist, while Jeff Daniels ("My Favorite Martian," "Pleasantville") is present for some on-again, off-again comic relief that's entertainingly effective.

Despite the plot spin on the genre by novelist Connelly and/or screenwriter Helgeland, the film ultimately comes off as a solidly told, but run of the mill effort that probably would have been far more mundane had Eastwood not been behind and especially in front of the camera. Decent, but nothing terribly original or memorable, "Blood Work" is good enough to rate as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed August 6, 2002 / Posted August 9, 2002

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