Murder By Numbers (2002)
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Review Date: April 12, 2002
Director: Barbet Schroeder
Writer: Tony Gayton
Producers: Barbet Schroeder, Richard Crystal, Susan Hoffman
Sandra Bullock as Cassie Mayweather
Ryan Gosling as Richard Haywood
Michael Pitt as Justin Pendleton
A seasoned detective and her rookie partner fall upon a corpse in the woods and must figure out who is behind the crime. Two chief suspects quickly become of a couple of smart teenagers from the local high school, who claim to know nothing about the event. Questioning, investigating, drinking and detective stuff...ensue.
Dinky joke aside, allow me to say that this is a passable video store mystery film starring Sandra Bullock in a black leather jacket, acting macho, Ben Chaplin, as her assistant detective, acting like a beeyatch, and a couple of teenagers, who are pretty much the only thing about this film that kept me going the whole way through. The kids' names are Ryan Gosling and Michael Pitt, and their respective roles and characters easily overshadowed the two leads' chemistry and sequences by a long shot. Every time they were on the screen, or the general ambiguousness of their relationship and situation vis--vis the murder came up, I was pretty intrigued and tuned in, but as soon as things would switch over to Bullock and the redundant subplot about her "past", I would start to fade out again. The film actually isn't "bad" as much as it's just "there. It goes through the motions as many other mystery thrillers before it (although there are no real "thrills" in this one, except for the final prerequisite scene in which someone is left dangling off the side of a cliff...natch!), and it ultimately did keep my interest for the most part. I only wish that there was something more to it than just the basics.

Ironically, Bullock's character watches "Matlock" on TV one night and that's pretty much what the general idea of this story felt like...an episode of some popular TV show starring Bullock in a black leather jacket (sorry folks, I just can't seem to get it out of my head). I do however, have to admit that even though the film does set the two detectives in the typical "movie" cop roles with the experienced one being the "macho, beer-swigging, living on a boathouse" type of person, and the rookie cop being more of a prude and such, I did like the fact that the roles were actually reversed here, with the female Bullock playing the rough-and-tumble copper, while Chaplin played the more vulnerable of the two. It was weird to see at first, but it was a welcome change. The film did feel a little off-kilter at times though, with characters feeling very different from scene to scene (one particular sequence which sticks out is one in which Bullock's character suddenly pussies out against a teen with a sly smile-this lady is supposed to be a "no bull" type, and suddenly she turns into a jellyfish??) And speaking of off-kilter, Bullock's character ultimately proves to be quite a detective in her own right, but has she ever taken any police training? She must have! This lady could barely throw a punch, protect herself or shoot a gun. It's pretty funny actually.

The story is also an interesting one overall (basically a fictional version of the real-life "let's see if we can kill someone and get away with it" vibe a la Leopold & Loeb), with no major plot holes that I could see, and a certain amount of drama, as the kids play cat-and-mouse with the cops (the interrogation scene in particular, is a really good one). But at the end of the day, it was the two lead kids that kept me watching as much as I did, since both of them were just so strange and hard to get a hold of. I mean, were they gay? Were they hiding some other bigger badder secret? Which one of them had the goofier hair? Lots of questions but very few answers kept me guessing about them until the very end. Unfortunately, our time with them would be cut short every now and again as Sandra drank a beer or whined about the fact that she didn't like one of the kids because he was too popular at school or something (or maybe he was just reminding her of someone else from her own past...hint, hint-we get it already!) Basically, it's a Hitchcockian thriller wannabee with video rental written all over it. In fact, if it wasn't for the two kids and Bullock's slick leather jacket, I would recommend that you rent old episodes of "Magnum P.I." instead and call it a night. Higgins?
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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