THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Magicians use a technique called "distraction" to create their illusions. What it means is that one hand does something flamboyant to distract the audience from the fact that the other hand is really doing all the work. The thriller Along Came a Spider uses a similar type of distraction. I sat there, caught up in the twists and turns (all of which really surprised me), only to realize when it was over that nothing made a bit of sense. Quite simply, the pieces of the puzzle don't fit together, but you don't realize that until later.

Morgan Freeman and Monica Potter team up to solve a crime in Along Came a Spider
The film is a prequel to 1997's Kiss the Girls, and Morgan Freeman returns as police psychologist Alex Cross. The daughter of a US senator is kidnapped from her private school by her teacher, Soneji (Michael Wincott), who turns out to be a master of disguise. Soneji is obsessed with the kidnapping of Charles Lindberg's baby and wants to recreate "the crime of the century." He sends Cross the little girl's shoe, thereby inviting him to join the investigation. Cross pairs himself up with Jezzie Flannigan (Monica Potter), a secret service agent assigned to protect the girl. Although she failed to do her job well, Cross believes that her impressions of Soneji may be invaluable.

At this point, Along Came a Spider starts to throw in a lot of twists and turns which, in the interest of fairness, I won't give away. What I can tell you is that Soneji's motives are not what they initially seem, a fact that becomes clear when he does not demand money for the girl's return. Later, after Cross and Jezzie foil one of his additional plans, Soneji does finally make a financial demand that spins the story off into another direction.

Watching the film, I found myself caught up in the ever-changing cat-and-mouse game unfolding on screen. Cross slowly comes to understand what Soneji is up to. Right about that time, the motives appear to change. Then something happens that I really didn't expect: the two meet face to face. Something else happens there that I didn't expect, which leads to not one, but two surprise revelations.

It's captivating stuff, as is a tense ransom drop-off that takes place on a moving train and a scene in which the little girl cleverly makes an escape attempt. I never knew what was going to happen from scene to scene, up to and including the final shocker of an ending. Further, I thought Wincott's portrayal of Soneji was original. Rather than being menacing to the child, he treats her with great care and concern. Somehow, his tenderness toward the girl makes him creepier than if he'd tried to be scary. Morgan Freeman is also eminently watchable. He's one of the few actors who can convincingly play a detective. Freeman, in any role, always seems like he's deep in thought, endlessly analyzing and contemplating. You can see the wheels turning in his mind.

All this is good, good stuff - but then the movie ends. As soon as the credits started to roll, I came to the sudden realization that nothing fit together. In order for the twists to be believable, certain characters would have to know things they could not possibly know. Because we can see that they do not have all the necessary information, the twists seem false. The timing is also off. We learn that certain events have happened off-camera, yet it is never clear at what point they could logically have occurred. When you go back and try to establish a timeline, you can't. It's impossible to tell when things happened (or how they happened for that matter).

The more I thought about the movie afterward, the more mad I became. It simply doesn't play fair. That leaves me in something of a quandary: do I recommend Along Came a Spider or not? After much internal debate, I have decided that, yes, I do. Marginally. As with a magic show, you know you are being fooled but you sit back and enjoy the illusion anyway.

( out of four)

Along Came a Spider is rated R for violence and language. The running time is 1 hour and 43 minutes.
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