Director of the subconsciously schizophrenic crime thriller "Primal Fear," Gregory Hoblit throws his disciples another suspenseful bone basted in the theologically transcendental and metaphysical.
"I want to tell you about the time I almost died," Detective John Hobbes (Washington) narrates as he writhes around in the snow. The film flashes back to Lieutenant Stanton (Sutherland) shepherding Hobbes and a camera crew into a penitentiary, escorting them further and further into the dank, muggy depths of Death Row. Clocking in at the alcove of Edgar Reese (Koteas), Hobbes is receptively welcomed by, what Stanton coins, the eighth notch in his belt. Reese was convicted of serial killings and sentenced to death by cyanide gas. Strutting and frolicking down the green mile, the Rolling Stones' "Time Is On My Side" throbs to the rhythm of Reese's disjointed choreography. Imperviously gripping Hobbes' hand, Reese begins speaking In tongues, or gibberish, posing the riddle, "Why is there a space between Lyons and Spakowsky?" Wrists and ankles strapped to his chair, Reese electrifyingly howls, "Hope you all enjoy the show, yes I do." "I'll give you a blowjob if you get me out of this," Reese snickers to a steward tightening the lap belt. Reese begins nauseatingly and obnoxiously singing "Time Is On My Side" as the cyanide gas permeates throughout the chamber, his peripheral vision probing the steward.
Later that night, the steward drives to the Red Light District, crawls out of his car, and begins whistling "Time Is On My Side," brushing up against a passer-by, who, in turn, harmoniously dovetails the Rolling Stones' song. That man then nimbly grapples the hand of a woman, who then fleetingly nudges a man, who slaps a sickly bottom feeder named Charles (Robert Joy) on the back. Smirking, Charles tells his slave driver to shove a tube steak up his rectum, smugly humming "Time Is On My Side." Retreating to someone's apartment and murdering the tenant, Charles obsessive-compulsively chows down on some cereal before calling Detective Hobbes.
Punching in at the scene of the crime, Hobbes and his partner, Jonesy (Goodman), comb the apartment. The number "eighteen" was carved into the murdered tenant's chest. Jonesy closes a closet door, revealing Reese's riddle slashed into the wallpaper.
Because Reese's riddle was captured in documentary footage that was televised the night before, the chilling déjà vu was denounced as distasteful mimicry. Wrestling with the brain twister while sluggishly moping down a derelict sidewalk, Hobbes' sixth sense alerts him to a slippery deviant eyeing him from the corner of the block. The mongrel, Charles, walks toward him, brushing up against him as they crisscross, the screen tinting red as the raving Charles scowls at the saintly Hobbes. Slapping a man on the back as he snakes through a crowd, Charles awakens from his blackout, vindicated from the omnipotent clutches of the ethereal horror, curdling the blood of the next marionette. Following Charles back to his apartment, the monster bottled up inside of the man shatters the door into splinters, leeching onto Charles and slaughtering him. The next morning, Hobbes snags another phone call from a man with the same devil-may-care composure as Charles, tipping him off to another murder. The number "two" is scrawled on Charles' naked, gnarled body. Hobbes rustles up the apartment and finds another telltale riddle behind the mirror. Hobbes drains his frame of reference as his friends and family become inhabited by the Rolling Stones-driven adversary, Detective Lou (Gandolfini) and Lieutenant Stanton suspecting him of being a dirty cop, culminating to a denouement that is both anticipated and unforeseen.
Reminiscent of "God Told Me To," this noir crime thriller echoes the murky style of "Se7en," dripping with cliché plot elements and a ploddingly vanilla second act. The foreshadowing and precursory "M. Night Shyamalan" plot twist left me with a savory taste in my mouth, exploiting black magic and raven-hued theology, which incoherently hatches melodrama and excitement. Perhaps if the movie's torso was penned-out, it might have behaved less didactically. In a dimension of confabulations and lapses in continuity, I'd rather be a bystander than a participant.
Despite the frustrating antagonist, the finale is tense and well staged and brings the film to fruition. Surprisingly, I thought the worst performance was yielded by James Gandolfini, whose pageantry and dialogue fall short of emanating the perverse vibe that I want to get. Washington dredges the undertaking to a higher plateau with his character idiosyncrasies and the warmth and fervor he brings to the set. Robert Joy is a suitably mawkish and depraved eccentric who possesses great stage presence. My favorite performance in the movie hails from the endearing John Goodman as the Morgan Freeman to Washington's Brad Pitt. It would be churlish and arrogant to snub the ups and downs of this movie, and not enjoy the taut realization that bullets and shootouts won't trample evil, especially when ensnarled in a biblical fallen angel. " It's like the Mafia," yowls Embeth Davidtz's character. " We're not supposed to know. We're not supposed to see."