Producers: Paul Aniello, Gianni Capaldi and Roman Kopelevich   Director: Terry McDonough   Screenplay: Koji Steven Sakai, Gianni Capaldi and Paul Aniello   Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Vincent Cassel, Gianni Capaldi, Kate Dickie, John Hannah, Brian McCardie, Laura Haddock and Mark Holden   Distributor: Lionsgate

Grade: C-

Since 1995 movies about tracking down serial killers have gone to extraordinary lengths to outdo David Fincher’s “Se7en” in terms of perversity and skewed religiosity.  The latest proof is provided by “Damaged,” a dark, gloomy, convoluted and frankly preposterous tale starring Samuel L. Jackson as veteran Chicago police detective Dan Lawson.  He’s dispatched to Scotland when a grotesque case there, in which the victim, a young woman returning from synagogue services, was killed and dismembered, with her limbs arranged in the form of a crucifix, shows signs of being connected to five unsolved killings with similar religious elements that occurred in the Windy City six years earlier and remain unsolved.

Lawson (Jackson), who’s shown in a prologue as a burnt-out alcoholic, investigated those murders with his then-partner Walker Bravo (Vincent Cassel), who afterward retired and moved to Scotland, where he now works in security.  On his arrival Lawson immediately connects with the chief detective on the case, Glen Boyd (Gianni Capaldi), a brooding, bearded man still grieving the death of his young son and—as will later be revealed—the infidelity of his wife Marie (Laura Haddock), though they are now close again. 

The first murder leads quickly to a suspect, a brutish neighbor (Brian McCardie).  But his alibi holds up, and soon a second killing—of a young Catholic girl, also dismembered with her limbs posed in a similar fashion.  Though Lawson concludes that the murders, while showing evidence of religious obsession, aren’t related to those in Chicago, he suggests that they call Bravo in to consult as well.

Their suspicions come to center on Colin McGregor (John Hannah), a surly mechanic who was once involved with the second victim and had been a member of a fringe religious sect.  But though caught in a burglary, his involvement in the murders is impossible to prove, especially after two more killings, both directly related to the case.  The similarity of one of them to the Chicago killings leads Boyd to consider Bravo a prime suspect, especially after it comes out that he had some past business connection to McGregor.

It wouldn’t be cricket to disclose much more about how the plot proceeds.  Suffice it to say that the coincidences pile up, that one major piece of the puzzle is withheld for an unconscionably long time, and that the final resolution, both absurdly complex and spelled out at ridiculous length, is then followed by protracted postscript including lots of gunfire, ranting and tiresome pursuit.

Throughout Jackson does his usual broadly theatrical thing, enunciating with his customary bravado.  (Lawson is always downing whisky from a tiny bottle that must be as bottomless as the flask John Hurt constantly guzzled from in “Heaven’s Gate.”)  Cassel, enunciating carefully in an effort to disguise the fact that he doesn’t sound remotely American, is restrained, but Capaldi is as florid as Jackson, though by comparison he seems subtle.  Both Hannah and McCardie swing for the bleachers in an effort to radiate menace; it’s not a pleasant sight.

Technical values in the Scotland-shot picture are adequate, with production designer Viviana Panfili and cinematographer Matthias Pötsch working to maintain a moody atmosphere while allowing occasional glimpses of the outdoor splendor, especially toward the close.  Three editors—Luis de la Madrid, Sean Albertson and Kurt Nishimura—worked with only marginal success to keep the pacing from becoming lugubrious while allowing the plot’s ludicrous contortions to come through clearly; Andrea Ridolfi’s score moans gloomily.

“Damaged” will probably keep you guessing until it spills the beans, but the outcome is no more convincing that what you’d encounter in the most outrageous giallo.  Then you’ll probably just wonder why you wasted your time, and why Jackson wasted his.  (Of course, his motivation was monetary; or perhaps he just wanted a free trip to the Highlands.)