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Suspect Zero (April 15/05)

Suspect Zero is one of those seemingly foolproof flicks that just doesn't work, despite the best effort of everyone involved. Sporting a top-notch cast that includes Ben Kingsley and Aaron Eckhart, the film is nevertheless unpleasant and generally pointless - thanks primarily to a ludicrous premise and E. Elias Merhige's busy, overly pronounced sense of style.

Eckhart stars as Thomas Mackelway, an FBI agent who finds himself sent to a remote office in the middle of the desert after his rule-breaking antics become front-page news. Though he's only been there a few minutes, Mackelway quickly catches a case involving the brutal murder of a traveling salesman (it's already been revealed that Benjamin O'Ryan, played by Kingsley, is behind the crime). Along with Fran Kulok (Carrie-Anne Moss), an ex-partner who's been sent in to watch over him, Mackelway sets out to stop O'Ryan before he kills again.

Suspect Zero's screenplay (written by Billy Ray and Zak Penn) has reportedly been floating around Hollywood for years, with stars like Ben Affleck and Tom Cruise attached to the Mackelway role. Given the sort of mediocrity that's oozing from the final product, one must assume that initial drafts were a far, far cry from the shooting script. It seems clear that the film would've been better off had Ray and Penn just focused on Mackelway's pursuit of O'Ryan, rather than include an absurd subplot involving a top-secret CIA project that isn't even remotely plausible.

Exacerbating Suspect Zero's various problems are Merhige's questionable directorial choices, which are more distracting than anything else. Merhige, presumably in an effort to mirror the script's dark tone, peppers the film with Oliver Stone-esque instances of style (ie he'll random switch to a grainy film stock for no apparent reason). And though Suspect Zero only runs around 99 minutes, it feels a whole lot longer - thanks primarily to the film's erratic pace (the emphasis on the ridiculous storyline over character development certainly doesn't help).

While Suspect Zero does feature several better-than-expected performances (you really can't go wrong with Kingsley as a sociopath), it's simply not enough to disguise the lackluster screenplay and over-cranked visuals.

out of

About the DVD: Paramount Pictures presents Suspect Zero with a crisp letterboxed transfer, along with a commentary track (featuring Merhige), an alternate ending, two featurettes, and a trailer.
© David Nusair