Along Came a Spider
2001, R, 104 min. Directed by Lee Tamahori. Starring Morgan Freeman, Monica Potter, Michael Moriarty, Dylan Baker, Michael Wincott, Penelope Ann Miller, Mika Boorem.
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., April 6, 2001
Much like its predecessor, 1997's Kiss the Girls, Along Came a Spider is an efficient, if overly mechanized, delivery system of thrills 'n' chills, classed up by some narrative sleight of hand and the rock-solid performance of Morgan Freeman. Freeman returns to his role as D.C. detective Dr. Alex Cross, the hero of the previous film (and of both source novels, the eponymous page-turners by James Patterson). Once more, Cross is teamed with a feisty femme sidekick (previously ingénue Ashley Judd as a kickboxing physician and kidnapping survivor; here, ingénue Potter, a disgraced Service agent who vacillates between trigger-happiness and pouty self-deprecation). And once more, Freeman is teamed with flyweight formula material held in place by the gravity of his presence. Despondent after a bad CGI car crash claims the life of his partner (a feisty femme sidekick, natch), Cross swings back into action to save a kidnapped Senator's daughter (Boorem) from her captor (reliably reptilian B-movie bad guy Wincott). En route to a twist ending that's actually rather surprising, the script bumps up against some of the typical police-procedural complications: heat from a federal agent working the case (Baker, whose hammy, Twin Peaks-ish presence adds an interesting wrinkle), some muzzy technobabble concealing a salient clue, veteran-rookie bonding during a stakeout, and the pay phone set-piece from Dirty Harry. While this is far from a literate, character-driven thriller like his wilderness nailbiter The Edge, Tamahori's direction is polished, if a bit on the workmanlike side. The film (lensed by prolific cinematographer Matthew F. Leonetti) looks handsome aside from its mediocre effects, and Tamahori squeezes real suspense from several sequences. But while the film has its virtues, it's hard to say whether they add up to anything out of the ordinary. Though her star is rising rapidly, Potter (lately of the little-seen caper comedy Head Over Heels) is a relatively unproven commodity and seems out of her depth here. (She has a likable, goofy Julia Roberts quality, rather than the tenacity and canniness of Judd, and is probably being misused.) Not that the screen adaptation (by novice scribe Marc Moss) is especially interested in her character. The biggest drawback is the score by Jerry Goldsmith, an unquiet marriage of those rumbly, ominous “movie thriller” piano notes and orchestral overkill.