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by: Michael Dequina

Phillip Noyce's The Bone Collector is a slick, confident piece of popcorn entertainment. The casting is on-target, the visual style is enthralling, and the storyline is lurid but compelling. There's just one little thing--in paying attention to all those other details, the filmmakers forgot to satisfactorily conceal the identity of the homicidal title character, which is a slight problem when your film is supposed to be a mystery.

It's a shame, for as I have mentioned, The Bone Collector has more than its share of virtues, not the least of which are above-the-title stars Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie. Washington plays Lincoln Rhyme, a brilliant NYPD detective who has lost use of his entire body--that is, except for a couple of fingers--after a debilitating on-the-job accident. Committed to not become the vegetable that his frequent seizures will inevitably cause, Rhyme is eager to make his "final transition" into the afterlife until fellow detectives come to him for help in an investigation of some gruesome murders. After initial trepidation, Rhyme is drawn back into active duty by young and spunky Amelia Donaghy (Jolie), the patrol officer who discovered the initial evidence of the killings.

Naturally, sparks do fly between Rhyme and Amelia, and while I usually frown upon the gratuitous romantic angle so often shoehorned into films, I did not mind it here. That's because Washington and Jolie, two of the most attractive and intensely charismatic actors working in film today, are so well-matched that their characters' otherwise arbitrary attraction is justified by their effortless electricity together. How effortless? They barely need to smile at each other to generate heat.

Generating heat is, of course, not the motivation behind The Bone Collector; rather, it's creeping out the audience. And viewers are bound to be unsettled by the many gruesome images on display; how could one not be disturbed by seeing bloody corpses with wounds penetrating down to the bone? Noyce packages the shocks in a sleek, visually stylish package that has both its moments of invention (when Rhyme digs into his mental library of crime cases, one sees a series of memory images before stopping on the right one) and its moments of formula (the obligatory fake shock where an intruder turns out to be someone friendly).

That will likely be enough for most moviegoers; the outside seatfillers used to sweeten the press audience gasped, jumped, and shrieked at all the right moments. But when it comes to a mystery, the right scares and the right mood don't count for anything if the big secret is far from it. It was barely a half hour into The Bone Collector that I figured out whodunit, and the only suspense left for me came in the hope that I guessed incorrectly. Needless to say, the film didn't live up to that hope.

So in the end,The Bone Collector amounts to a lot of wasted effort and talent. The film has its merits, and the actors kept me interested long after I had solved its central mystery. But I should've been more than merely interested--I should've been involved.

RATING: *** (out of *****)


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