Paramount // 2001 // 103 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // January 16th, 2002
The game is far from over.
Along Came a Spider is actually the first of the James Patterson novels featuring detective Alex Cross, but came along after the successful film adaptation of Kiss the Girls. Morgan Freeman reprises his role as the arch-detective in a film that seems just a bit too twisty and turn-y for its own good. An interesting film in its first viewing, but plot holes and twists just for the sake of cleverness take away from the impact. I don't mean to disparage the film too much, however, as it is a gripping suspense thriller for the most part and worth the time investment. Paramount does their usual fine job in the picture and sound departments and even offers a bit of extra content.
Alex Cross is retired after a traumatizing loss of a partner, and hopes to sit quietly with his model ships in a rural home. That isn't to be when Mr. Soneji (Michael Wincott), a teacher at an exclusive prep school suddenly kills a fellow teacher and kidnaps the young daughter of a US Senator. Cross can't stand aside when Soneji draws him out with phone calls, demands for his participation, and the delivery of the girl's shoe to his mailbox. Joining Cross on the case is Secret Service agent Jezzie Flannigan (Monica Potter), who was in charge of the young girl's security. Soneji leads them on a chase as Cross once more pits his mind against a calculating opponent. Of course, all is not as it seems.
To tell much more about the story would eliminate some of the suspense from the film. That would be a shame, as the suspense is one of the main draws for the film. From the point I left off, the story goes into all the twists and turns I alluded to earlier, and it certainly keeps you guessing. Fortunately, there is more than a convoluted plotline to say for the film, as Morgan Freeman's performance is outstanding. As usual, he makes it look easy, exhibiting class and intelligence with a subtle look or gesture. I was also impressed with child actress Mika Boorem, who plays the kidnapped Megan Rose. Her believable escape attempts added greatly to the film, and even helped me believe the story even when it seemed too clever.
Paramount did a very good if not great job with the video quality for this DVD release, and a superlative job on the sound. The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer looks very smooth and clear, and very film-like in nature. Small object detail is fine and colors are well saturated. The only flaw I could find was a bit of edge enhancement, though it is not overly obtrusive. While not an aggressive mix, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was open and expansive, with a wide and deep soundstage, particularly during the Goldsmith musical score. The sound is very clear, and dialogue always intelligible except during some instances where Soneji purposely distorts his voice. There is even a bit of extra content; a 14 minute featurette accompanies the usual theatrical trailer. It's basically an extended trailer and more promotional than educational, but at least it's a step in the right direction for Paramount.
The story is gripping at times, suspenseful, and keeps you guessing. I've said all that. Sometimes there is too much of a good thing in this case. By the time the end of the film came along I felt overly manipulated by all the twists. After the film was finished I discovered a plot hole or two, and saw that changes from the novel and time constraints worked against the film. This sounds more wishy-washy than I'd like, but it seemed like I liked the film less after I had seen it than while I was watching. This shouldn't be construed as the death knell for the film, because I think it's still pretty good. The film did well at the box office, and most will enjoy watching it at least once.
I didn't give this film a glowing review, but I'd give it a look anyway. It might fit more into the rental category than an immediate purchase.
The film is guilty of trying too hard to keep the audience guessing, but I'm releasing the film on its own recognizance anyway. The disc is acquitted.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailer