THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


A significant problem with today's thrillers is that many of them work off the same blueprint. It's easy to get different films confused because they often resemble one another. Don't Say a Word is ultimately marred by this fact. Despite a fantastic premise and some good performances, the movie drags out the same tired old plot elements we've seen in countless other thrillers.

Patient Brittany Murphy holds a secret desired by psychiatrist Michael Douglas
Michael Douglas plays Dr. Nathan Conrad, a respected psychiatrist known for having "a touch with the teens." He is called to a Brooklyn mental institution to examine Elisabeth Burrows (Brittany Murphy), a 19-year old woman who has just badly injured an orderly during a psychotic rage. The next day, Conrad's daughter Jessie is kidnapped. He and his wife Aggie (Famke Janssen) receive a call from the kidnapper, Patrick Koster (Sean Bean). The mystery man informs Conrad that Elisabeth has a 6-digit number in her head that he needs. Only if Conrad can deliver that number within seven hours will Jessie be returned unharmed.

Elisabeth is not willing to give up the number. "You want what they want," she says. "I'll never tell." As the day wears on, the psychiatrist becomes more and more desperate to save his daughter, no matter what it takes. That includes springing Elisabeth from the hospital to relive a traumatic event from her youth. Meanwhile, a police detective (Jennifer Esposito) begins investigating a case that crosses her path with Conrad's.

I love the premise of Don't Say a Word, but the movie goes in the wrong direction. I would have liked to see a psychological battle of wills between Conrad and Elisabeth. In other words, he wants the number, but she's too psychologically unstable to provide him with it. It could have been very exciting watching this man probe the girl's demons - thereby risking her mental health - in order to get what he needs to save his daughter.

In fact, the film was sold to audiences with this idea. But what you see in the trailer is a misrepresentation of what the film really is. Instead of that psychological tension, Don't Say a Word traffics in many of the usual thriller cliches. There is the seemingly "trustworthy" person who turns out to have a hand in the scheme. There are the usual chase scenes and shootouts. And, of course, the movie has one of those endings that take place in the middle of nowhere and involves the gruesome, vengeful death of the bad guy. I don't think I'm giving anything away when I say that it would be nice to see a thriller that didn't bend over backwards to allow the hero to kill the bad guy instead of the cop. These things have been used in so many movies that all you can do is sit back and wait for them to play themselves out again.

There are some individual scenes that work, and I liked the performance from Brittany Murphy. The actress also played a mental patient in Girl, Interrupted. To her credit, she plays the characters differently, even though they have a lot in common. Murphy makes Elisabeth effectively disturbed without overplaying the behaviors. Regrettably, the screenplay undermines her performance by suggesting that Elisabeth is not as troubled as she seems.

Don't Say a Word is certainly not an awful movie; as a mindless piece of entertainment, it offers a suitable, if familiar, diversion. But it is undoubtedly a lost opportunity. With some fine tuning, it could have been a first-class chiller instead of just another generic suspense film destined to top the box office charts for one week before dropping into obscurity.

( 1/2 out of four)

Don't Say a Word is rated R for violence, including some gruesome images and language. The running time is 1 hour and 53 minutes.
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