“Taking Lives” is a serial-killer-tracked-by-female-detective movie so preposterously contrived that by rights it should star Ashley Judd. Since she was apparently tied down in making the even worse “Twisted” at the time, however, the plum part of Illeana Scott, FBI profiler extraordinaire, has instead been assigned to Angelina Jolie. That proves no improvement.
The script by Jon Bokenkamp (based on a novel by Michael Pye) is vaguely reminiscent of any episode of the late, unlamented NBC series “Profiler,” which starred Ally Walker as a federal investigator who had mystic visions about crimes by visiting their scenes. In this case Scott, similarly endowed it would seem, is invited to Quebec to assist the locals in tracking down a killer who may be the son, long presumed dead, of resident dowager Mrs. Asher (a slumming Gena Rowlands). When an artist named Costa (Ethan Hawke) witnesses the most recent killing, his description of the perpetrator, along with other clues, eventually allows Scott not only to name Asher definitively as the culprit, but also to explain his motive: for some twenty years the fellow has been offing guys to steal their identities for a while and then continue the process with yet another victim. (The prologue shows us young Asher, in the person of the genuinely scary Paul Dano, dispatching his first kill, in a sequence that’s probably the most effective in the whole picture.) When it appears that the disguised Asher has targeted Costa–with whom Scott is already getting unprofessionally involved–as his next prey, the cops set up a trap to catch the villain, but things naturally go awry. While it wouldn’t be fair to those who might actually be misled into seeing “Taking Lives” to reveal the twists that follow, it’s interesting to note that the gender-transferring requirements of the script require that the part of the damsel-in-distress who’s inevitably used as bait to trap the villain be assigned not, as used to be mandatory, to a svelte woman (the very role that Judd, for instance, played in “Kiss the Girls”) but to a wispy dude instead–Hawke, looking even more fragile and weak-kneed than usual. But while one may applaud expanding the range of lead roles available to actresses, one can really inquire: Is this really progress?
Still, for the first hour or so, “Taking Lives,” despite the mounting implausibilities and gaping plot holes, manages to be reasonably creepy. Jolie, as usual, is much too stiff as Scott, and D.J. Caruso directs as though he’s watched “Se7en” entirely too often, but one is still willing to give the picture the benefit of the doubt. At the sixty-minute point, however, things go completely off the rails. (You can identify the moment from the appearance of Keifer Sutherland, who now seems to be specializing in playing surprise scumbags–remember “Phone Booth”?–and the chase that immediately follows.) From here the movie goes progressively downhill at an ever-accelerating pace, ending in a gross final confrontation that abandons logic and credibility entirely. During this phase of the picture the scenes between Jolie and Hawke grow more and more trying, since both are forced to emote beyond their palpably limited ranges; their sultry love scene comes off as laughable rather than hot. By the close “Taking Lives” is awash in absurdity, and more likely to evoke snickers than gasps.
Nonetheless, there are a few elements that give a modicum of class to this generally disreputable effort. For example, it’s nice to see a picture shot in Canada actually be set there for a change (rather than asking the locales to impersonate New York or Chicago), and cinematographer Amir Mokri uses washed-out colors, mostly blues, greens and browns, to give the film a dank, unsettling look. The location also allows Olivier Martinez, Tcheky Karyo and Jean-Hughes Anglade, as the Montreal cops, to strut their stuff without needing to explain their accents (even if Martinez, in particular, is occasionally hard to understand). It’s also pleasant to encounter another score by Philip Glass, whose talent for film work is finally getting the attention it deserves from the Hollywood studios. His music here shows more of his minimalist tricks than that he composed for the recent “Secret Window,” and it isn’t as effective–but then David Koepp’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novella is a much better film than this one.
In any event, the virtues are minor parts of a very depressing whole. A bad movie like this might not take all of your life, but at 103 minutes it steals entirely too much of it.