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With: Aaron Eckhart, Ben Kingsley, Carrie-Anne Moss
Written by: Billy Ray, Zak Penn
Directed by: E. Elias Merhige
MPAA Rating: R for violent content, language and some nudity
Running Time: -99
Date: 08/27/2004

Suspect Zero (2004)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Cold Serial

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Despite a seriously stylish sheen by cult director E. Elias Merhige(Begotten, Shadow of the Vampire), Suspect Zero is just one moreexample of an over-saturated genre. Written by Billy Ray (ShatteredGlass) and Zak Penn (X2: X-Men United), the film follows the formula of practicallyevery serial killer film that came before, from 1986's Manhunter tothis year's Taking Lives.

A serial killer is on the loose and only one FBI agent in all the land has the stuff to catch him. Of course, the killer has hand-picked the agent, and even sends messages and clues to him.

Aaron Eckhart stars as Mackelway, the heroic FBI agent whose recklessness has caused him to be banished from the big city to a cruddy little office in Albuquerque. It's not long before his expertise is needed to track a sadistic lunatic, O'Ryan (Ben Kingsley) who has murdered a mild-mannered salesman outside of a diner. Mackelway's former partner and ex-lover Fran Kulok (Carrie-Anne Moss) inexplicably shows up to help.

Also key is an FBI profiling unit that trained its agents to "see" murderers and victims miles away.

Director Merhige gets plenty of mileage out of these visions, presenting them with his trademark eeriness, ranging from red filters and distorting lenses to highly pixilated faces to creaky 8mm film projected onto a cracked wall. Adding to this O'Ryan's character scrawls a series of astonishing and highly disturbing artwork that virtually wallpapers the film.

The creepy, metallic sound design and score engulf Suspect Zero. To trigger his visions, O'Ryan listens to a pre-recorded tape that drones with a buzzing, squeaking hum. Long sequences permeated with a strange quiet unsettle as well.

Using these smothering techniques, Merhige almost manages to snuff out the film's more ordinary attributes, bringing us totally inside O'Ryan and Mackelway's frayed, obsessed brains. By comparison, the outside world is a weird and distant place.

Even so, the overall effect can be strangely muffled and unpleasant. Merhige's extraordinary, subversive Shadow of the Vampire took its single idea -- that the lead actor in F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu was actually a vampire -- and wound it around and around, making it tighter and ever more surprising. With Suspect Zero, the payoff leaves us no more or less thrilled than when we began.

DVD Details: DVD fans would have to be pretty hard up to rent this Paramount Home Video DVD. Extras include a dull, pretentious commentary track by director Merhige, a four-part behind-the-scenes featurette (about 30 minutes) called What We See When We Close Our Eyes, an Easter egg about "opening the third eye," a ten-minute featurette demonstrating real-life "remote viewing," and a one-minute alternate ending. There are also previews for Alfie, Enduring Love, The Machinist and Coach Carter at startup.

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