Along Came A Spider

on April 06, 2001 by David Lawrence
Morgan Freeman reprises his "Kiss the Girls" role as ace profiler Alex Cross in "Along Came a Spider," adapted from the James Patterson novel of the same name. Though somewhat marginally more engaging that its predecessor, "Along Came a Spider" falls into many of the same pitfalls, offering too many pat solutions and contriving too many implausible plot twists.

After a ridiculous, CGI-saturated opening sequence in which Cross loses a partner during a botched sting operation, the film skips forward eight months to find Cross still carrying the burden of guilt. As with any movie hero, of course, guilt only hangs around as long as it takes for the next evil super villain to raise his ugly head, in this case a kidnapper (Michael Wincott) who has seized the daughter of a U.S. senator from underneath the intense protection of the Secret Service. On the face of it, it's an impressive feat, the culmination of three years' planning during which time the heavily-disguised kidnapper, under the alias Gary Soneji, has worked as the girl's schoolteacher.

Ordinarily, the case wouldn't even leak beyond the Secret Service. But Soneji personally invites Cross to the party, determined to test the renowned profiler's skills. Cross agrees to the challenge, reluctantly partnering with the guilt-ridden Secret Service agent (Monica Potter) responsible for allowing Soneji access to the girl.

Revealing any more of the plot at this point would dishonor the request of the Paramount publicity people to preserve the film's surprises for the sake of audiences (even though the disclosure of a "twist" by Paramount's own ads seems to completely defeat that purpose). Such twists, of course, are de rigeur for Patterson stories, and the one here is hardly any more surprising or plausible than the switcheroo inserted into the middle of "Kiss the Girls." As with the earlier film, audiences will be split between genuine surprise on the one hand and disdain on the other.

Twists and surprises notwithstanding, there isn't anything in "Along Came a Spider" to really distinguish it from the thousands of other mid-level thrillers that Hollywood studios have produced over the years. As with so many recent films of this type, computers play too strong a part, practically solving the crime single-handedly at every point where the screenwriters appear to have run into a wall. The first time this cheat is employed, it's irritating. The second time it's simply insulting.

It would all be rather unbearable if not for the sublime talent of Morgan Freeman, whose uncanny ability to sell an audience on the credibility of even the most incredulous plot contrivances is pressed to the limit here. But Freeman again rises to the occasion, sustaining much of the film to the point that most viewers won't likely start to realize how bad it all is until after they've had a chance to think it through.

Just about everyone else involved in the film seems to be going through the motions. Monica Potter is passable, Matthew F. Leonetti's photography serviceably exposed, Jerry Goldsmith's score appropriately dramatic and Lee Tamahori's direction competently staged. No one, however, really seems enthused enough to do more than the bare minimum, which is probably what the film will wind up earning. Starring Morgan Freeman, Monica Potter, Michael Wincott, Dylan Baker, Mika Boorem, Michael Moriarty, Penelope Ann Miller and Jay O. Sanders. Directed by Lee Tamahori. Written by Marc Moss. Produced by David Brown and Joe Wizan. A Paramount release. Thriller. Rated R for violence and language. Running time: 101 min

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