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"THE LITTLE THINGS"
(2020) (Denzel Washington, Rami Malek) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Dramatic Thriller: A formerly disgraced detective returns to Los Angeles and teams up with his replacement to try to find a serial killer who's preying on young women.
PLOT:

Years ago, Joe "Deke" Deacon (DENZEL WASHINGTON) was a star detective with the LAPD, working with partner Sal Rizoli (CHRIS BAUER). But his efforts to find and stop a serial killer eventually became an obsession resulting in his suspension, a divorce from his wife, and a heart attack. He now works for the sheriff's department in Bakersfield but travels to Los Angeles upon orders from his boss regarding an unrelated case. There, he sees his old friends including Sal and medical examiner Flo Dunigan (MICHAEL HYATT) as well as young star detective Jim Baxter (RAMI MALEK) who essentially took his place.

Jim initially humors Deke as the former but now fallen prodigy. But he allows him to tag along to a crime scene -- the latest featuring a young woman who's been slain in a ritualistic fashion, indicating the work of a serial killer -- when he realizes they're cut from the same cloth and Deke might be able to help.

The former detective's focus on the little things that others might ignore or not even see eventually leads them to believe that appliance repairman Albert Sparma (JARED LETO) might be their prime suspect. But he's a wily sort who's knowledgeable about police procedures and seems to enjoy playing the detectives who must figure out if he's the actual killer or just a twisted man who enjoys toying with them.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10

I have no idea how many police investigation-based novels have been written over the past few centuries, but I'm guessing it's easily in the thousands if not tens of thousands, especially in the past fifty years. Even so, and notwithstanding the obvious fact that pretty much every imaginable scenario, detective type, criminal, and the sort of crimes they commit has already been conceived, put in print, and then consumed by readers, such works keep coming. As do movies based on or simply inspired by such literary works.

The latest such offering is "The Little Things" from writer/director John Lee Hancock who last pulled such double creative duty with "The Blind Side" (while also directing, but not writing "Saving Mr. Banks" and "The Founder" of recent). While that was a true-life, feel-good flick, this is a decent if not exactly uplifting and fictional tale of two police officers trying to find and stop a serial killer before he once again preys on another young woman.

There's absolutely nothing here we haven't seen before in such films, including but not limited to: The disgraced cop who tried so hard to stop the perp that he pretty much destroyed his own life; the younger, by-the-books star detective who thinks he has all the answers and doesn't need help; and the seemingly super-intelligent and conceited but cool as a cucumber serial killer who seems to be one step ahead of those trying to pin the crimes on him.

Despite that, the film works -- at least for the first half and maybe two-thirds -- mainly because of the star power of the leads and what they bring to their characters. Playing the veteran cop is Denzel Washington who creates a believably determined but also damaged character who jumps at the chance of cracking such a case once again, what with having failed in the past (when that led to a suspension, divorce, and a heart attack).

Rami Malek plays the new star detective, a religious family man who initially doesn't think much of his predecessor but ends up teaming up with him after seeing the man's determination and a common goal between them. And Jared Leto convincingly plays the creepy but wily antagonist who seems to enjoy manipulating and leading on the two cops.

And while Hancock brings nothing new or notable to the offering in terms of the storyline or the characters within it, I was still intrigued by what was playing up on the screen. But once Leto was unleashed into the proceedings and more familiarity flowed forth, my enthusiasm for the project began to wane a bit, only to grow near-completely frustrated by what ultimately transpires.

Without going into specifics, let's just say one character ends up behaving in ways that simply don't jive with what we've been watching up to that point. All of which ends up taking the viewer completely out of the proceedings and greatly diminishes the "oh no" suspense that's supposed to be building.

What's worse is that some script tweaks here and there - you know, the little things -- could have greatly mitigated or even entirely wiped out that problem and still allowed things to play out the way they do. It's still a watchable offering - tech credits are excellent all around - and the three leads certainly help lift the material somewhat above all the familiarity. But the lack of anything new or novel and the third act problems knock off some points, resulting in "The Little Things" rating as a 5.5 out of 10.




Reviewed January 25, 2021 / Posted January 29, 2021


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