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Along Came A Spider (2001)

Along Came A Spider Movie Trailer, Reviews and More | TV Guide

DIRECTOR: Lee Tamahori

CAST: Morgan Freeman, Monica Potter, Michael Wincott, Billy Burke, Dylan Baker, Jay O. Sanders, Penelope Ann Miller, Michael Moriarty, Mika Boorem, Anton Yelchin

REVIEW:

1997’s Kiss the Girls was not a great thriller, but even so, this sequel is disappointing. Another adaptation of one of crime novelist James Patterson’s series of page-turning novels following brilliant detective Alex Cross, Along Came A Spider at least brings back Morgan Freeman, but while that’s an ace in the hole, it’s not enough to salvage this hackneyed thriller from the realm of contrived mediocrity it inhabits.

To be fair, it’s not all bad. In fact, the prologue—in which an undercover mission to entrap a serial killer goes awry and causes Alex Cross (Morgan Freeman) to lose his partner—is arguably more engaging than much of what comes after. When we pick up some time later, Cross is more-or-less retired, but—of course—the brilliant detective gets drawn back into the game when—of course—he’s contacted by a villain who wants to match wits with him (plot elements sounding generically familiar yet?). The villain in question is Gary Soneji (Michael Wincott), who in the guise of a mild-mannered teacher, has snatched Senator’s daughter Megan (Mika Boorem) from her exclusive private school, right out from under the nose of Secret Service agent Jezzie Flanagan (Monica Potter), who was assigned to protect her. Determined to rescue her young charge, Jezzie teams up with Cross to find Soneji and Megan, but everything might not be as it seems.

While faithful in broad strokes to its book origins, Along Came A Spider loses crucial elements in translation. The plot has been whittled down to simplistic basics, with Soneji in particular a pale shadow of his book counterpart who’s been leeched of anything that made him interesting. In the book, Soneji is a Hannibal Lecter-like mastermind whose brilliant faking of a split personality—one a mild-mannered innocent, the other a vicious psychopath—fools even the brilliant psychiatrist Cross (this element in the book is reminiscent of Edward Norton’s character in Primal Fear). In the movie, he’s a disappointingly generic villain. Other significant plot elements are excised too, like the interracial romance (and the hostility it attracts) between Cross and Flanagan; in the movie they’re platonic partners. Cross has been reduced from an intelligent, observant character who finds his way to the truth a clue at a time to a cliched “brilliant movie detective” who makes huge leaps of intuition at the drop of a hat, because it’s in the script. Freeman is almost a persuasive enough actor to sell it, but not even he can stop it from feeling contrived. Even if one is not familiar with the book, the revelation of the “surprise villain” is predictable and not likely to shock anyone who’s seen many of these kinds of movies. There’s a lot of scrambling around, but like many second-rate detective movies like this, the convoluted narrative feels both overplotted and simplistic, like an unintelligent script struggling desperately to convince us it’s smarter than it actually is.

Along Came a Spider (2001) directed by Lee Tamahori • Reviews, film + cast  • Letterboxd

Along Came A Spider‘s saving grace is Morgan Freeman, who seems incapable of giving a bad performance even in a bad movie and strides through here with his dignity intact. His effortlessly authoritative presence, gravitas, and air of lived-in wisdom gives the mediocre proceedings enough of a boost to at least make them watchable, although it’s a shame the filmmakers couldn’t have given him better material for his encore (in his review of the film, Roger Ebert opined that “maybe actors should be given Oscars not for the good films they triumph in, but for the weak films they survive”). As his female sidekick this time around, Monica Potter is adequate, although she’s not up to the level of Ashley Judd’s Kate McTiernan in Kiss the Girls, who was both playing a meatier character and had a stronger rapport with Freeman. As the movie’s sadly watered-down version of Soneji, Michael Wincott has been plucked out of the bag of generic “bad guy actors”, and gives an equally generic performance. Dylan Baker plays the police chief who does a lot of scurrying around but never really accomplishes anything (he says “let’s roll” a lot). Smaller roles include Billy Burke as another Secret Service agent, Penelope Ann Miller and Michael Moriarty as the parents of the kidnapping victim, Mika Boorem as the abducted Megan, and Anton Yelchin as her Russian classmate. Apart from Freeman, the only returning cast member from Kiss the Girls is Jay O. Sanders, who played FBI Agent Kyle Craig in the first film and returns in a small role here.

Along Came A Spider is watchable in a generic, diverting kind of way if one is bored and undemanding, and Morgan Freeman’s return at least gives things a boost (because Freeman is always watchable), but this mishandled adaptation of a better crime novel is both a disappointing follow-up to a movie that didn’t belong in the pantheon of great thrillers in the first place, and yet another addition to the already too-crowded pile of mediocre detective flicks.

* * 1/2

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