Suspect Zero is a decent enough thriller, but as the follow-up film of director E. Elias Merhige, who brought us Shadow of the Vampire, we were hoping for something a little more than just “decent.” Whereas Vampire was a startling meta-examination of art imitating life and vice-versa and all in-between as a filmmaker struggles with demons both figurative and literal, Suspect is a competent but ultimately unremarkable thriller that must be considered to be yet another serial killer movie left in the dust of both The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en. At least it’s well-acted, with Aaron Eckhart and Carrie-Anne Moss playing FBI agents hot on the trail of a serial killer who kills other serial killers (Ben Kingsley); could this guy indeed be the ever-elusive “Suspect Zero,” the “super serial killer” responsible for hundreds of deaths across the country who’s managed to never leave a usable clue? We won’t spoil that for you, but it’s worth mentioning that Kingsley’s character was part of a secret government experiment attempting to cultivate telepathic abilities (for military purposes, of course); he kills serial killers because he just can’t take the vivid nightmares that showcase their work every night. It’s an interesting premise, but it ends up being nowhere near as interesting as it sounds.
We’ll say this about Brian De Palma — unlike most of the other wannabe Hitchcocks out there, he’s rarely boring. The Fury serves as something of a companion piece to the director’s excellent Carrie (released just two years earlier), as a corrupt government agent (John Cassavetes, making for a great villain) attempts to exploit the psychic powers of a teenage girl (Carrie‘s Amy Irving) who causes people to bleed if they touch her. He’s already turned another psychic young ‘un (Andrew Stevens) into a brainless automaton with his experiments, and the poor kid’s dear old dad (Kirk Douglas) is desperately trying to track him down. Both a horror film and a spy thriller, The Fury is a silly but undeniably entertaining B-movie with a surprisingly classy score by John Williams and a particularly excellent show-stopping special effects extravaganza right at the film’s climax — you may, in fact, call it quite “explosive.” Features early performances by both Dennis Franz (as a cop, of course) and Daryl Hannah (as a hottie, of course) — James Belushi also appears as an extra, a fact that provided endless amusement for David Letterman when the actor appeared on his show years later.
This sci-fi thriller from the summer of 1984 was the second film to sport the new-fangled PG-13 rating (following Red Dawn); being able to go into people’s dreams is apparently too intense an ability for the pre-teen crowd to handle. Dennis Quaid (ever-grinning and in his prime) plays a psychic who uses his abilities mainly to bed women and win at gambling; he’s soon blackmailed into joining a program that involves being able to psychically link with someone’s subconsciousness during REM sleep (and thusly enter their dreams). The program was originally designed to treat sleep disorders but it’s since been hijacked by a CIA (or something) operative (Christopher Plummer) who wants to use it to perform assassinations — with the ultimate target being the President of the United States. The “real world” elements of Dreamscape are ridiculous, but the “dream scenes” are a lot of fun, with David Patrick Kelly making for a particularly creepy “dream assassin” who killed his own father and often appears in the form of a giant snake! Expect this one to get the remake treatment sooner rather than later — there’s so much you could do with this premise with today’s special effects technology and the wizards who wield it.
Joss Whedon, the man behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer, has to be one of the very few people in Hollywood who could convince a major studio to give him a $40 million budget to make a feature length film based on a television series that was canceled before the end of its very first season. Apparently, if the show was actually good (if not popular), like Firefly most definitely was, it makes all the difference. Whedon’s space western series translates rather well to the big screen (or to your Netflix Instant account, anyway) with Serenity, which chronicles the adventures of the crew of the title cargo ship and how their life of crime is interrupted when they come across a mysterious psychic genius named River Tam (Summer Glau), who’s been subjected to cruel experiments and brainwashing by the evil Alliance Academy. Of course, you can’t just be hot and psychic in Whedon’s forever-adolescent universe; you also have to know kung-fu! As always, Whedon is just a little too “nerd-cool” (or whatever you want to call it) for his own good; he trumps real emotional moments with sarcastic punch lines and his obsession with youth/beauty eventually becomes exhausting; however, he’s also a first-rate storyteller and nothing if not a well of pure imagination.
This should’ve been a comedy classic, what with a cast that includes George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan McGregor and Kevin Spacey — but, alas, it ends up falling short, starting with having a title that probably leaves anyone who hasn’t read the book on which the film is based (which is, let’s face it, most people) confused as to what the hell it’s supposed to be about. For the record, The Men Who Stare at Goats is an account of the real-life investigation by Jon Ronson (who wrote the book) and John Sergeant into the U.S. military’s attempts to hone the powers of supposed psychics (or “Jedi Warriors,” as they’re referred to), most of whom end up being delusional weirdoes who just want a little attention — or are they? The actors are fine, but they’ve all been so much better; director Grant Heslov, who produced and wrote Clooney’s excellent Good Night, and Good Luck, struggles to find the right tone (and, indeed, identity — is the film a satire? A scathing political commentary?) but ends up being the powerless superintendent of this madhouse — where’s Steven Soderbergh when you really need him? A fitfully funny mess, and unfortunately little more — it really just kind of sits there and… well, stares.