Movie review: 'Taking Lives'

1 star (out of 4)

When we first meet FBI special agent Illeana Scott (Angelina Jolie), she's lying in a grave. More precisely, she's lying in a Montreal construction site where a serial killer dumped his recent victim, who was horribly disfigured.

She's down there a long time, getting inside the mind of the killer (we suppose), as director D.J. Caruso inches the camera along her body - from her hips to that defining vertical crease in her bottom lip. Although she eventually leaves the grave, the movie never does.

"Taking Lives" isn't just a movie title, it's a declaration. Those who fall prey to its marketing campaign (or, indeed, Jolie's distinctive bottom lip) will lose 103 minutes of their lives to an unimaginative, protracted gore-fest that swipes from David Fincher's "Seven" like a cinematic pickpocket but only comes up with lint.

Illeana is an unorthodox detective who works instinctively and is shunned by local police. When a potential witness (Ethan Hawke in a thankless role) offers a break in the case, her attraction to him confuses her professional acumen. It seems the killer she's tracking murders single, unattached men, then assumes their identities before moving onto the next victim.

Caruso, who showed flair in the Val Kilmer vehicle "The Salton Sea," has a penchant for the dark side. In this case, it's the plodding, predictable ZIP code of the dark side. He bombards the audience with gruesome murder-scene photographs, as Illeana studies them in the bath, at dinner and even tapes them to the ceiling above her bed. When Illeana and police chief Leclair (the excellent Tcheky Karyo) search a darkened suspect's apartment, the film pays direct homage to "Seven." Instead of encountering a ceiling full of pine-scented car air fresheners (as in "Seven"), Leclair finds a shower full of scented urinal cakes. Both scenes end in grisly discoveries.

Caruso and screenwriter Jon Bokenkamp construct a story that echoes nearly every other serial-killer drama out there. "Taking Lives" takes on the cop and killer dichotomy, then adds another layer of absurdity by revealing, halfway through the picture, that our serial slasher had a twin brother. If Caruso and Co. missed any cliches, it must have been an oversight.

As a final slight, the film misappropriates the talents of composer Philip Glass and abuses the U2 anthem "Bad," which contains the lyric: "If I could / I would / Let it go …"

Audiences would be wise to follow Bono's advice and release "Taking Lives" into the vast wasteland of disposable serial-killer films.

"Taking Lives"
Directed by D.J. Caruso; screenplay by Jon Bokenkamp; photographed by Amir M. Mokri; production design by Tom Southwell; music by Philip Glass; edited by Anne V. Coates; produced by Bernie Goldmann, Mark Canton. A Warner Bros. release; opens Friday, March 19. Running time: 1:43. MPAA rating: R (strong violence, disturbing images, language and sexuality.)
Illeana - Angelina Jolie
Costa - Ethan Hawke
Hart - Kiefer Sutherland
Mrs. Asher - Gena Rowlands
Leclair - Tcheky Karyo

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