Monday, April 22, 2002

Bullock Bitten by a Baboon!

To be Frank Burns, "nerts to you." To be frank otherwise, if Sandra Bullock did not star in the new movie Murder By Numbers, I'd probably have never seen it. If it starred Ashley Judd, or Jodie Foster, or Julia Roberts, or J. Lo, I'd probably have gone and seen The Scorpion King instead. Nothing against any of those people, indeed some of them might even make my personal "pantheon" of actresses but I consider it somewhat my duty to watch whatever Bullock does.

That is the only excuse to why I forced myself to watch the dreadful ABC sitcom, The George Lopez Show the other week. Bullock is an executive producer of the show and she made a guest appearance as "Accident Amy" whom George didn't want working at his factory because they were trying to achieve the safety record for the number days without a mishap. Sandra gave it the old plucky effort but with the canned laughter and cliched situational writing it was an embarrassment particularly when compared with other mid-season replacement shows like Andy Richter Controls the Universe, and Watching Ellie that should get some kudos for at least trying to be something different.

Not that Murder By Numbers is a bad movie. It actually was better than I thought it would be having read negative reviews from both of our local newspapers and having seen the trailer that made it look like a bad Seven knock off. Bullock plays Cassie Mayweather sort of a feminine Humphrey Bogart, down on her luck, borderline alcoholic, cynical crime scene expert cop. Cassie has some serious scars, a difficult past that influences the way she approaches her latest murder case. She's brittle and broken, a little out of control yet the consummate professional.

What makes the movie something better than your average CSI or Matlock episode are the two villians (Ryan Gosling and Michael Pitt) who give nice performances as creepy high school kids who murder just because they want to see if they can get away with it. At one point Pitt confesses that he just can't feel anymore as if to suggest he took the life of another because it made him feel something. It is something Cassie seems to relate to.

The movie makes a somewhat familiar convincing argument that once you take the suicidal plunge and decide that it doesn't matter whether you are alive or not, there will forever be a part of you that can't recover, that will forever remain dead inside. Both the boys and Cassie do some desperate things that aren't as much cries for help as they are self affirming acts of self pity. These characters have long since passed the point of caring about what others might think of them.

The movie's deliberate pace, played out like a fine chess match as Gosling and Pitt leave clues for Bullock and her partner (played by Ben Chaplin) to figure out, is ultimately betrayed by a contrived climax as Cassie confronts the alleged killer face to face, hand to neck. In the end it all seems a rather cookie cutter thriller made by the numbers.

Yet it is a departure for Bullock. This time around we are supposed to like her character in spite of her flaws instead of because of them. It's a diversion of a movie, something that the masses either will or won't go to in acceptable numbers because it is on par with whatever else is out there. Like all of her films this one doesn't exactly strive to be Academy Award winning stuff. It settles for being something between workwomanlike and slightly more artful than conventional fare. And while that's not necessarily a bad thing, after reading recent interviews with Sandra it seems a tad disappointing that none of her movies live up to the compelling spirit that obviously exists. Still sad from the death of her mother two years ago, everything written about her conveys this light that is the appeal to her work and yet the other layers of a rare woman who knows the value of spending the final moments on a foreign shore finding the perfect rock to give to another in need of something to hold on to, is sadly absent.

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