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Friday, April 6, 2001

It's got legs

Movie: Along Came a Spider

Posted on Fri, Apr 6, 2001 at 4:00 AM

***1/2
Our Rating: 3.50

Whatever else you do while watching "Along Came a Spider," don't allow yourself to question what's going on. Just enjoy the whiz-bang pacing, the warm performances and the "Oh-my-God" plot twists. If you do think about what's transpiring on the screen, it'll dampen your enthusiasm for this slick thriller, and for the solid players it puts in all its skill positions.

Taken from the Alex Cross series of novels by James Patterson (the first to reach theaters was "Kiss the Girls"), "Spider" opens with Cross (Morgan Freeman) -- that criminal profiler, kidnap expert and master of detection -- losing his partner in a sting operation. Cross quickly obtains a new comrade in Jezzie Flanagan (Monica Potter), a Secret Service agent with a crisis of her own to address: The daughter of a U.S. Senator was kidnapped on Flanagan's watch. Solving that crime becomes the new team's focus.

We quickly learn the identity of the kidnaper (Michael Wincott), who has hidden his victim aboard a pleasure boat somewhere near Annapolis. Md. And right about here is where the illogical elements start stacking up: If you pay close attention, you'll wonder why a senator's kid has Secret Service protection, why a demented killer would indulge in a two-year disguise as a teacher or why no ransom demand is made.

Lee Tamahori's snappy direction helps us gloss over such niggling details. And just about every time our minds wander toward reality, Marc Ross' script supplies the occasion for the injection of a new personality, including master character actor Dylan Baker as an FBI agent, Michael Moriarty as the senator and Penelope Ann Miller as his wife.

As Megan Rose, the kidnap victim, Mika Boorem challenges venerable Freeman's Cross for the center of our attention. Just as the plucky Megan outmaneuvers her captor, the 13-year-old Boorem surpasses nearly every other actor on the set. After providing mere background in "Jack Frost" and "The Patriot," she looks for all the world like a very fast-rising star.

The older stars hitch themselves to Freeman's all-suspecting wisdom, the calm eye in a panicky hurricane of knee-jerk cops. Cross plumbs the depths of computers and inspects the interiors of baddies' heads;. he's so good at it that you'll wish his writers were playing at the same level.

Indeed, much of the movie is gratuitously swiped from the works of Akira Kurosawa and Don Seigel. (Watch out for one gimmick that's lifted directly from "Dirty Harry.") Yet there is still a genuine capacity for surprise beneath the mayhem and mishaps that almost makes up for the plagiarism. Give credit to director Lee Tamahori, who worked similar near-miracles in "The Edge" and "Mulholland Falls" after making a devastating debut with the savagely engrossing "Once Were Warriors." When "Along Came a Spider" joins those previous titles on video, cinema buffs could do far worse than to celebrate by staging Lee Tamahori Film Festivals in the comfort of their own homes.

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