Picks and Pans Review: Suspect Zero

updated 09/06/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/06/2004 01:00AM

Aaron Eckhart, Carrie-Anne Moss, Ben Kingsley
THRILLER

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Just as the potboiler that Snoopy was writing in Peanuts always did, this straining-for-atmosphere film starts on a dark and stormy night. A traveling salesman eating at a diner is accosted by a sinister man (Kingsley, at his most beadily intense), and soon after, the salesman is found dead, with his eyelids sliced off. FBI agent Thomas Mackelway (Eckhart) gets the case. The agent is wound a little tight—he's constantly gulping aspirin straight from the bottle—and his nerves aren't helped when additional delidded corpses show up bearing notes addressed to him.

Right from its jittery opening credits and the numeral in its title, it's clear Suspect Zero owes much to Seven (1995). Both share a dark view of life and an ardor for showing the grisly handiwork of their killers. Where Zero, directed by E. Elias Merhige (Shadow of the Vampire), lays a goose egg is in creating a compelling storyline and a reason to care for its troubled protagonist. The movie is underpopulated and under-cooked, with abrupt transitions between scenes and frequent narrative lapses. Eckhart mostly gets to look clammy, while Moss, playing Mackelway's FBI partner and ex-squeeze, has little to do besides purposefully snap her cell phone open and shut. (R)

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