The Minus Man

on September 10, 1999 by Wade Major
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   "Blade Runner" screenwriter Hampton Fancher makes a solid directing debut with "The Minus Man," a compelling if offbeat adaptation of the 1990 Lew McCreary novel about an itinerant serial killer. Traditional "Silence of the Lambs"-type thrills and chills, however, are not to be found in Fancher's hauntingly cerebral approach.
   The real horror, as Fancher and McCreary suggest, is the tranquility and clinical calm with which the killer, a friendly, quiet youth named Vann Siegert (Owen Wilson), dispenses death.
   Told almost entirely from Siegert's point of view, with voice-over narration lending insight into the warped moral mechanics of his mind, "The Minus Man" begins with Siegert drifting into yet another small midwestern town, his most recent victim (singer Sheryl Crow) killed only hours before. With his gentle, baby-faced looks and personable ways, Siegert has little trouble making a place for himself in the community, winning the trust of an older married couple, Doug and Jane (Brian Cox and Mercedes Ruehl), who take him in as a boarder.
   Commercially, "The Minus Man" faces an uncertain fate. In keeping with his homespun manner, Siegert kills his victims passively, with poison, forcing audiences to dig for a level of indignation that would otherwise be extracted from them viscerally. While sophisticated audiences will undoubtedly embrace the approach, widespread appeal among traditional thrill-seekers seems unlikely.
   In spite of its peculiarities, "The Minus Man" remains a courageously original and restrained effort for which Fancher and his excellent cast are to be praised. Wilson in particular looks to be remembered come awards time, while Cox and Garofalo fulfill their supporting roles with their usual level of professionalism.
   The casting of Cox should strike a special chord with trivia buffs who may recall that it was Cox who originated the role of Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter in the 1986 film "Manhunter," four years before Anthony Hopkins' Oscar-winning turn as Lecter in "The Silence of the Lambs."    Starring Owen Wilson, Brian Cox, Mercedes Ruehl, Janeane Garofalo, Dwight Yoakam, Dennis Haysbert and Sheryl Crow. Directed and written by Hampton Fancher. Produced by David L. Bushell and Fida Attieh. An Artisan release. Psychological thriller. Rated R for language and a scene of drug use. Running time: 113 min.
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