In a world where everyone's seen Scream and Se7en, the question is who exactly will be enthralled by a serial killer movie that possesses neither the sharp humour of the former, nor the terrifying grittiness of the latter. And why should anyone want to watch a film whose construction is so old-school that the killer spends the final reel standing in front of the hero like an Agatha Christie character, reading through expositions you'd never have worked out in a million years? The Bone Collector is a bad episode of Quincy, spruced up with cinematic sequences of helicopters with searchlights, and made into uncomfortable viewing by some needlessly voyeuristic murder scenes.
Guilty of wanting nothing more than to pay their mortgages are the cast, who manage to emote, characterise and interact perfectly well. Denzel Washington proves he literally has more screen-presence in his little finger (the only bit of his character's body that still works) than many more famous actors, and Angelina Jolie puts in a performance which suggests that if she's not mega-star famous by this time next year, then something's gone disastrously wrong.
Philip Noyce earns his renta-director credit by piecing together the sequences in a totally linear way. Think of The Saint as Noyce's version of Die Hard, and you're close to knowing how well The Bone Collector compares to Se7en. After Clear And Present Danger and Sliver, you've got to wonder if the excellent Dead Calm was just a blip in a downward spiral.
But even Noyce comes out smelling of roses compared to scripter Jeremy Iacone, whose dot-to-dot adaptation of Jeffrey Deaver's novel is populated by cliché-spouting stereotypes and over-used situations. All the good cops are easygoing, the incompetent senior cop says things like: "You're off the case, and that's come straight from the top!" and the moments of high drama are supposedly heightened by rookie cop Donaghy being sent into every crime scene on her own. The theory? She's the eyes and ears of the bed-bound Rhyme and needs to preserve the integrity of the forensic evidence. But by the fifth time she plunges defenceless into another potential showdown with the killer, it's a format that's become as stale as six-day-old underwear.
While Se7en and The Silence Of The Lambs evoked horror by showing the aftermath, The Bone Collector is dead set on showing you everything from abduction to murder to crumpled corpse. Not only is this not scary, it's also rather revolting. Didn't this sort of thing end with all those crappy Italian exploitation flicks of the `80s?
And that's the main problem. Here is a film out of time, a nasty, predictable movie that follows conventions laid down years ago, and that attempts to be Hollywoodish by casting strong actors and adding by far the most comically good-natured ending seen in many a moon. Wait for the heavily cut version to appear on TV. Then watch a good video instead.
Although you'll frequently be stuffing your fist in your mouth, it'll be to stifle giggles, not screams. The Bone Collector manages to be silly, unpleasant and boringly predictable despite a strong cast trying to make the most of a sub-standard script.