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September 2004

By Julian Roman

Suspect Zero

Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Director: E. Elias Merhige
Producers: Paula Wagner, E. Elias Merhige, Gaye Hirsch
Screenwriter: Zak Penn
Cinematographer: Michael Chapman
Composer: Clint Mansell
Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Ben Kingsley, Carrie-Anne Moss, Harry Lennix, Kevin Chamberlin, & Julian Reyes




Suspect Zero is another failed attempt in the serial killer genre. This film is so flawed; I'm surprised Paramount is releasing it theatrically. They would save themselves loads of money in marketing and distribution by sending this straight to video. It's that bad. The surprising thing is that the premise doesn't suck. It could have worked, especially with the talent of the lead actors. Ben Kingsley, Aaron Eckhart, and Carrie-Anne Moss are criminally misused. Elias Merhige, who last directed Shadow of the Vampire, delivers a real stinker. He took a mediocre script, three good actors, and made an awful film. It would be shocking if Suspect Zero wasn't on my year's worst list.

The plot centers on the concept of remote viewing. Basically put, using organized telepathy to find serial killers. Ben Kingsley plays Benjamin O' Ryan, a former remote viewer haunted by the gruesome images he sees. He takes an interest in disgraced FBI agent Thomas Mackelway (Aaron Eckhart). Mackelway has been reassigned to Albuquerque, New Mexico for breaking the rules. He suffers from terrible migraines and even worse nightmares. Ryan is baiting Mackelway into finding a killer he calls Suspect Zero. This serial killer, totally off the radar of the FBI, is responsible for hundreds of murders. Ryan uses his remote viewing skills to track Suspect Zero and believes Mackelway has this skill too. Toss in Carrie-Ann Moss as Mackelway's former lover turned partner and you have all the pieces for your standard serial killer shtick.

You could drive a truck through the plot holes in this film. It is completely nonsensical. Suspect Zero kidnaps everyone in the same way, has murdered hundreds of people, yet the FBI is utterly clueless about his existence. All the other agents are jackasses while Mackelway is the only guy smart enough to figure it out. Carrie-Anne Moss's character should have been written out. She literally serves no purpose. Her only job is to allude to the affair with Mackelway and that's handled terribly. I can only imagine she did this film to work with Eckhart and Kingsley. They're all wasted in this film, but her role is unusually vapid.

Merhige uses a lot of trick photography and bizarre editing in a silly attempt to add style. It's all smoke and mirrors, a hack attempt to cover the glaring weaknesses of the film. Some of these effects where so incredibly unnecessary, it's almost as if he was experimenting as he went along. Merhige should have paid more attention to the substance of film. His distorted focus takes away from character development and storyline. What you end up with is an unwatchable, jumbled mess.

I'm mystified by Ben Kingsley's recent choices. Suspect Zero and Thunderbirds are two excruciatingly bad films. He's one of the greatest actors of our time and he's starring in drivel like this. There's also a lot of negative buzz concerning his upcoming film, A Sound of Thunder. How can you make The House of Sand and Fog, a sublimely deep drama that garnered an Oscar nomination, then go on to make such garbage? Ben needs a good script with a seasoned director. His magnificent talent demands better material.

Suspect Zero is cable/dvd filler at best. It's uniformly bad. I can't think of anything remotely positive to write about. Merhige's next film will have to knock one out of the park to overcome this disaster. Don't waste hard earned money or time watching this film in the theater. You'll kick yourself if you do.