Murder By Numbers

Three stories unfold simultaneously in Murder By Numbers. The first is the primary one, with detectives Cassie Mayweather and Sam Kennedy investigating the murder of a woman. The second tracks the events that lead up to the murder. By the end of the movie, Mayweather (Sandra Bullock, Miss Congeniality, 28 Days) and Kennedy (Ben Chaplin, Birthday Girl, Lost Souls) will figure out how the murder occurred, and at the same time, the flashbacks will show the crime. This is normal for movies. The third story flashes back even further to some traumatic experience in Mayweather's past. Murder By Numbers is a fairly conventional movie, so this means that this traumatic experience will shed some light on the Mayweather character near the end of the movie. The movie is based on a 1924 case involving Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, and previously adapted as Compulsion.

Mayweather and Kennedy believe that Justin Pendelton (Michael Pitt, Changing Lanes, Bully) and Richard Haywood (Remember the Titans, The Unbelievables) are the perpetrators. Pendelton and Haywood are bored, disaffected teenagers. Pendleton is the introspective nerd, and Haywood the popular jock. They plan the murder so that all clues will point in a specific direction, when in actuality they are the ones behind it. Mayweather doesn't believe the profile, and thinks the boys did it. She has a reputation for being hard to work with, and Kennedy is her new partner. Nobody believes her theory, so Mayweather has to investigate on her own. As she gets closer to the truth, it begins to unnerve Pendelton and Haywood, who begin to lose trust in each other.

This is a change for Bullock, who usually trolls around in the romantic comedy genre. It's nice seeing her do something different, but not so nice seeing her half-hearted attempts at doing it. She is relying too much on Tony Gayton's script (Athens, Ga: Inside/Out), which uses some cliched twists to attempt to add depth to the Mayweather character. As a result, Bullock is not believable in this role, and Gayton and director Barbet Schroeder (Our Lady of the Assassins, Desperate Measures) do nothing to help. Bullock acts tough because the script says her character is tough, not because her character actually is. Chaplin is amazingly boring. Pitt and Gosling are much more intriguing to watch. They are cold and calculating in all their actions, and the interplay between them remains interesting for most of the movie.

Still, Murder By Numbers feels like making a movie by numbers. Everything about this movie feels like a retread. Barbet uses all the standard techniques, plot turns, even shots consistent with thrillers. There is never a doubt that Mayweather will find the killers and exorcise her demons, all at the last minute, and all in some life-threatening fight. The only interesting aspect of the movie is the relationship between Pendelton and Haywood. The two are close, secret friends, and possibly share a homoerotic bond. In fact, Haywood lashes out when he discovers that Pendelton and Lisa (Agnes Bruckner, Home Room, The Glass House), a classmate of theirs, begin seeing each other. Pendelton and Haywood are frightening in the methodical detachment. And even with all they go through, they still have a profound mistrust of each other.

Haro Rates It: Not That Good.
2 hours, 1 minute, Rated R for violence, language, a sex scene, and brief drug use.

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