Where would we be without The Silence Of The Lambs? Certainly minus a zillion serial-killer pics, that's for sure. Ashley Judd wouldn't have a career. And Angelina Jolie would perhaps spend more of her time in movies worthy of her considerable talents, instead of getting bogged down in slick-but-derivative psycho-chillers like The Bone Collector and Taking Lives.
It starts off promisingly enough, a 1983-set prologue (two kids, a truck, a nasty death) piquing curiosity before the action jumps to present-day Montreal. The setup, characters and scenarios are strictly standard - - Detective Paquette (Olivier Martinez) is seriously miffed when Jolie's FBI profiler takes over his investigation; she turns out to be a loner, self-contained and (surprise!) obsessed - - but the intrigue is undeniable. Especially when Ethan Hawke's art dealer arrives on the scene, wearing a string of red herrings around his neck. Okay, so this is-he-the-killer-or-isn't-he? routine is an old one, but it works - - right up to the very end.
Add some polished editing, a classy Philip Glass score that, for once, isn't too intrusive and some solid performances (Hawke is especially good), and you have the makings of a gripping thriller. Then things begin to unravel. Slowly at first, but faster and faster as we approach the ludicrous finale.
For starters, Jolie's super-professional FBI agent begins to fall for her prime suspect. Or, as she puts it in her jargon-heavy way:" "I might be having a reaction to the witness"." Next up, we get Kiefer Sutherland popping up as Possible Killer No2, just to keep us guessing. (Mind you, his 24 schedule was obviously tough cos he's only got time to show his face two or three times.) And finally this most manipulative of movies ends with the most manipulative of climaxes, Jolie going to the kind of deserted farmhouse that people only go to in films. Yawn.
And yawn again, because the clichés don't end there. Endless driving rain? That'll be Se7en. Frantic car chase? Take your pick, starting with The French Connection. A pursuit through the Montreal Jazz Festival, all banging drums and piercing horns? Try Double Jeopardy.
Getting progressively worse as it goes on, Taking Lives has only two ideas of real note. One, that the serial killer adopts his victims' identities, literally taking their lives (""He's like a hermit crab"," ventures Jolie's impossibly intuitive special agent. ""He outgrows one shell and then he's looking for the next one""). And two, at its heart lies a neat gender reversal, Hawke's weakling being the one who needs protecting, Jolie's tough cookie purposefully doing the rough stuff.
Clever, but it doesn't mean a damn when you don't care who lives or dies.