Kiss The Girls
Coming after The Silence of the Lambs and Seven, this thriller about a collaboration between two serial killers feels like a pale attempt to cash in on the success of those earlier, better films. That's a pity, because this film certainly has its strengths--particularly in the central performances of Morgan Freeman as a forensic detective and Ashley Judd as a would-be victim who escaped from one of the killers. Director Gary Fleder demonstrates visual flair and maintains an involving undercurrent of tension, but as this adaptation of James Patterson's novel approaches its climax, familiar elements combine to form a chronic case of thriller déjà vu. It's altogether competent filmmaking in the service of a moribund story of competing psychopaths, and by the time the serial killers reach the home stretch of their twisted contest, the movie's dangerously close to Freddy Kruger territory, with a finale that could've been borrowed from any dozen similar thrillers. --Jeff Shannon
The Sum of All Fears
It's not easy replacing Harrison Ford as a beloved screen hero, but Ben Affleck brings fresh vitality to The Sum of All Fears, reviving Paramount's Tom Clancy franchise in the role Ford made famous. As CIA agent Jack Ryan, Affleck is a rookie in the covert ranks, unraveling a plot that lures Russian and American superpowers into a nuclear standoff, while a neofascist faction turns most of Baltimore into an atomic wasteland and holds the world in the grip of a terrorist nightmare. Affleck combines sharp intelligence with a new-guy's perspective, while a senior agent (Morgan Freeman) passes the torch of back-channel authority. The result is one of the best Clancy films to date, ably helmed by Phil Alden Robinson (whose comic thriller Sneakers was sorely underrated) with a stellar supporting cast, and adapted with abundant humour, humanity, and thrills by Donnie Brasco screenwriter Paul Attanasio and cowriter Daniel Pyne. Even the typically reticent Clancy would approve. --Jeff Shannon
Along Came a Spider
After an obligatory prologue in which its detective hero suffers a tragic professional setback, Along Came a Spider sets about its business of luring the viewer into its nefarious plot, relying on the magician's technique of misdirection to reveal a double-whammy surprise. The clever, late-coming plot twist is a bit too mechanical but effectively unexpected, making this a satisfying prequel to the hit thriller Kiss the Girls--based on the first of James Patterson's Alex Cross detective novels--and a welcomed addition to a promising movie franchise. It's no better or worse than a good vintage episode of Peter Falk's Columbo, adhering closely to the mystery-thriller's time-honored traditions, but with Morgan Freeman settling comfortably into his role as seasoned sleuth Alex Cross, familiar formula is given fresh vitality.
When a senator's daughter is kidnapped from her high-security private school, the kidnapper (nicely played by the underrated Michael Wincott) draws Cross into the case, knowing that the psychologist-detective's involvement will bring high-profile publicity. Cross partners with the Secret Service agent (Monica Potter) who botched her assignment, but wait... the movie's got a rabbit in its hat... and that rabbit has an ace up its sleeve... and director Lee Tamahori (who brought similar intensity to The Edge) handles the sleight-of-hand with slick precision, dispensing just enough information to keep the viewer off guard without resorting to cheap manipulation. Don't look for much depth of character here, but Along Came a Spider is well served by everyone involved. It's the movie equivalent of a bestseller you'd impulsively buy at the grocery-store checkout, and on those terms it succeeds. --Jeff Shannon
Along Came A Spider-Morgan Freeman returns to his role as detective Alex Cross, in this prequel to KISS THE GIRLS. He investigates a kidnapping of two girls that may involve a schizophrenic psychopat; Kiss The Girls-Dr. Alex Cross, a Washington, D.C. police detective and psychologist is searching for his niece, who has disappeared from college in North Carolina, an apparent kidnapping victim. Dr.; Sum Of All Fears-Based on Tom Clancy's novel "The Sum of All Fears", this espionage thriller tracks a sinister plot to draw the United States and Rus sia into World War III. When the Russian presiden