Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle The Bone Collector

By Marc Savlov

NOVEMBER 8, 1999: 

D: Philip Noyce; with Denzel Washington, Angelina Jolie, Queen Latifah, Michael Rooker, Mike McGlone, Luis Guzman, Leland Orser, Ed O'Neill. (R, 118 min.)

What if Alfred Hitchcock and David Fincher gave a party and nobody came? They'd probably be stuck bandying about script ideas and ­ after all the schnapps and canapés had been consumed ­ arrive at something along the lines of The Bone Collector, a middling urban thriller that's one part Rear Window and three parts Seven. Both those films are not only particularly fine examples of their genres but also audience favorites, and while Noyce's film is practically guaranteed to start breaking some fall box-office records right out of the gate, it's not particularly a classic, or even that memorable. Come to think of it, it's one of the most improbable thrillers in some time, but both Washington's subtle charm and Jolie's to-die-for visage will help most filmgoers work past any problems they might have with the film's odd logic. It's hard to quibble about mundane plot machinations and so on when you have lips like Jolie's or Washington's electric smile hovering in front of you. But why not? As Noyce's film opens, we see NYPD forensics expert Lincoln Rhyme (Washington) descending into the shadows beneath the streets of New York City, trying to check on a missing cop. After locating the missing man, Rhyme is then promptly crushed by a falling girder from the strut work above. Flash forward four years to the present. The now-paraplegic Rhyme ­ at home, in bed, surrounded by medical equipment and able to move only one finger and his mouth to blow commands in and out of an exhalation device ­ is trying to convince his physician to assist in his suicide should the time finally arrive. "I want to make the final transition on my own terms," he says, and we are meant to understand that Officer Rhyme is a man used to being in absolute control. He still is. Apart from the central mystery (which is actually pretty silly when you scrape off all the gothic trappings), the most intriguing thing about The Bone Collector is Washington's portrayal of how a control freak adapts to a sudden, permanent loss of control, not only in his work, but also in his very bones. As Rhyme, Washington is like some wounded but still powerful ruler, lording it over his nurse Thelma (Latifah) and seemingly every other cop in the city, including the sassy beat patrolwoman Amelia Donaghy (Jolie). Eventually, she acts as Rhyme's physical proxy in the field as, together, they probe the deepening mystery of a cabbie-cum-serial killer (certainly every New Yorker's most enduring nightmare) fond of removing marrowed trinkets from his victims. Jolie is terribly miscast as a beat cop, but she does have a nice rapport with Washington, which helps, as I said before, gloss over the dozens of plot holes that pop up every scene or so. Noyce, who directed the wonderfully fun thriller Dead Calm some years back (and the deadly dull The Saint more recently), has a great eye. The crime scenes are downright Holmesian in their gaslit dourness ­ though there are no gaslights to actually speak of ­ and he can make even a clod of dirt take on grave menace. That still can't save the film from its wild sense of inconsistency, though, which is far more unstoppable than Rhyme and Donaghy combined.

2.5 Stars

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