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Illogical, ill-conceived, illuminating nothing

'Along Came a Spider' spins tangled, dull tale


In this story:

Creepy teacher

Crime of the century?

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(CNN) -- "Along Came A Spider" is billed as a "psychological suspense thriller." It may be chock-full of psychological elements, but it's neither suspenseful nor thrilling.

Morgan Freeman again plays Alex Cross, a Washington, D.C., police detective and psychologist famous for profiling killers. "Spider," based on the first of a series of books by James Patterson that feature this D.C. cop, is a prequel to "Kiss The Girls" (1997), which co-starred Ashley Judd.

Freeman's female sidekick this time around is Monica Potter in the thankless role of Secret Service Agent Jezzie Flannigan. They star in a ludicrous film that gets off to a hopelessly ludicrous start.

Creepy teacher

Michael Wincott plays Gary Soneji, a teacher who works at a very exclusive private school in D.C. Hidden cameras and high security -- including that provided by the Secret Service -- guard the school, since many of its students have high-profile and powerful parents. One, Megan Rose (Mika Borrem), is the daughter of a United States senator (Michael Moriarty). Another is Megan's best friend, Dimitri Starobubov (Anton Yelchin), son of the Russian president. Why the Secret Service is involved with the protection of a senator's child, or the Russian president's child, is never explained.

After meticulous planning, Soneji kidnaps Megan from his school office. After all, he's her teacher, so getting her alone is no problem. But here's the twist: For two years Soneji has worn a wig, fake beard and heavy make-up over complicated foam rubber prostheses that have totally altered the way he really looks. Megan and her classmates have been looking at someone in costume, day in and day out.

The audience is expected to believe that none of his colleagues (never mind all the different law enforcement types everywhere) ever noticed anything! This sociopath is running around wearing enough makeup to turn Brad Pitt into Frankenstein ... and nobody can tell? In what universe?

Trailer for 'Along Came A Spider'

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Cross, who has retired after his partner is killed during a sting operation, is lured into the spider's web when the kidnapper (who is a fan of Cross' books on crime), mails him a piece of evidence that compels the detective to enter the hunt.

Then, in a move that defies logic -- and law enforcement jurisdiction -- Cross selects for a partner Agent Flannigan, disgraced now because the snatch occurred under her nose. Disgrace or not, you gotta have that pretty female co-star.

Crime of the century?

Soon they discover Soneji's motive for the kidnapping: The twisted teacher wants to become famous by re-creating the crime of the century. No, not that crime of the century; historians are still sorting out the O.J. Simpson case. No, it's the Lindbergh baby kidnapping of 1932 that has Soneji's interest.

This is a re-creation with a twist. Megan is not Soneji's only target; he wants the Russian kid, too. The race is on to nab the evil educator, but nobody cares.

Marc Moss' debut script is illogical and tepid. A lot of scenes and plot complications from the original novel have been cut out, with a new ending tacked on. The direction by Lee Tamahori is well executed, but there the whole thing suffers from a sad lack of action.

The villain, as written, isn't particularly scary or evil, either: His motive is stupid. And his victim, young Megan, never really seems to be in any real jeopardy.

Freeman is one of our finest actors, but not even his considerable talents can unravel this tangled mess. Folks, don't get caught in this spider's web.

"Along Came a Spider" opens nationwide on Friday. Rated R. 104 minutes.

'Along Came a Spider' official site

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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