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Murder By Numbers Review

By Shawn McKenzie 04/12/2002

Why are there so few suspense/thrillers that deliver on their promise? For every Seven or Sixth Sense we get an AntiTrust. For every Memento or Usual Suspects we get a Gossip. Do you get my point?

In my opinion, a thriller is a genre that should make you leave the theater with your mouth hanging open in shock of what you just saw. It should make you want to go over the events in the movie over and over in your head so you can make sense of what you just saw. It shouldn't be a cookie-cutter movie that any fan (like me) of thrillers could put together in a week.

That is exactly what Murder By Numbers is. This is surprising since it is directed by Barbet Schroeder, the director of an actual suspenseful, creepy movie called Single White Female. He also did an (almost) equally suspenseful movie called Desperate Measures. What went wrong here?

There is one thing that is similar in all three movies: they all have a very interesting plot concept. Single White Female's plot involves one woman's obsession of another woman to the point of wanting to take over the other woman's life. Desperate Measure's plot involves a detective's hunt for a serial killer whose bone marrow type matches the type for his ill son.

In Murder By Numbers, it is a cross between "C.S.I. Crime Scene Investigation" and what "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" was promising to be (but didn't deliver.) It is about two intelligent high school kids named Richard Haywood and Justin Pendleton (played by Ryan Gosling and Michael Pitt respectively) who are obsessed with criminology. Justin especially seems to know what every move the police might make. They are so obsessed with it that they wonder if they could get away with a random murder. Enter Detective Cassie Mayweather (Sandra Bullock) to solve the murder of a woman who was strangled and then dragged out into the woods. The audience gets to see the investigation from the detective and criminal points-of-view (a la "L&O: CI") with a lot of criminology terminology (a la "C.S.I.")

Sounds like an interesting movie, right? Somehow, this movie becomes so predictable that my girlfriend and I were both telling each other what was going to happen in the next scene (and we always got it right!) Now I know we are given both points-of-view, but the criminal's moves after their original set-up are all too by the book for stupid movie criminal slip-ups.

I'm also getting tired of the character with a haunted past. In Murder By Numbers, Cassie is haunted by a past case she has to testify at its parole hearing. It is meant to be the arbitrator for her fear of intimacy, but it feels unnecessary.

In the end I left the theater not trying to figure out the events of the movie, but instead trying to figure out why Schroeder made it so easy to guess what the next events were. Much less to say, my mouth wasn't left hanging open, but my finger was scratching my head with puzzlement and my eyes were rolling with disappointment. That should not be the end result of a thriller.


Ratings System:


Catch this movie at the theater if you can...

Wait until it comes out on video...

Wait until it plays on HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc...

Demand your money back, even if you saw it for free!

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