Teaming Sandra Bullock and Barbet Schroeder for a movie based on the notorious Leopold and Loeb kill-for-kicks case sounds promising enough. And the presence of Ryan Gosling, the hugely talented star of The Believer, further suggests Murder By Numbers can overcome it's yawn-inducing title. Well...
Bullock is Cassie Mayweather, a workaholic detective investigating a brutal homicide seemingly perpetrated by a pair of sociopathic high-school brats. Sounds edgy? Then remember this: Schroeder may have once helmed interesting dramas such as Maîtresse and Barfly, but his last major movie was the useless Desperate Measures. And this: Bullock's always driven her formulaic vehicles straight down the middle of the road. She may, theoretically, want to broaden her range, but whenever the material has veered into murky territory (ie. witchy sisters snuffing abusive men in Practical Magic), she opts for the comforting hands of a safe director.
And here, Bullock's irrepressible star appeal undermines her credibility. Her trash-talking, booze-swilling law enforcer may be dubbed `The Hyena' by her macho colleagues, but hints of heinous emotional baggage and a thwarted romantic connection with Ben Chaplin still can't douse that sparky comedic charm. She's as reliably playful in Murder By Numbers as she is in everything she does.
Instead, the real intrigue comes courtesy of the killers. Both Gosling, as arrogant stud Richard, and Michael Pitt, as ostensibly meek misfit Justin, admirably reach beyond teen stereotype, their adversarial mind games keeping you guessing as to which of them is really in charge. It's just a shame that Schroeder chooses to leave the homoerotic subtext between their characters largely unexplored, and that his only goal here is to crank out a bog-standard Hollywood thriller.