For as long as I can remember, the taxicab drivers of New York City have always seemed to be the target of complaints and the butt of jokes. If someone isn't making a comment on their heart-stopping driving skills, then it's about their bad manners, poor sense of direction, or unethical business practices. As an example, just last week, actor Danny Glover ("Lethal Weapon 4") complained publicly and vociferously about New York cab drivers not stopping for him because he is black. With the advent of "The Bone Collector" (based on Jeffery Deaver's best-selling novel of the same name) in theaters across North America, we can now add 'homicidal tendencies' to the list of reasons why New York cab drivers should be feared or despised. And though this 'killer thriller' is blessed with some strong characterizations that are backed by equally noteworthy performances, the film's crippling reliance on a number of blatant suspense-thriller clichés diminish what could have been a strong must-see effort.
"The Bone Collector" opens up with a nondescript yellow taxi stalking the streets of Manhattan, picking up unsuspecting fares on a one-way trip to the morgue. The disturbing case comes to the attention of veteran detective Lincoln Rhyme (Denzel Washington of "The Siege"), a renowned expert in forensics and author of numerous books on the subject. Unfortunately, Rhyme is bed-ridden from a near-fatal accident he had four years prior, and he has only the use of one finger and anything above the shoulders-- however, his intellect and eye for forensics remain sharp as ever.
Unable to work the crime scenes in the field, Rhyme calls on Amelia Donaghy (Angelina Jolie of "Pushing Tin"), a sassy and headstrong beat cop who found the first body, to assist him with the investigation. Despite her lack of formal training in forensic science, Rhyme is reasonably assured of Donaghy's abilities given the quick thinking she displayed in preserving the first crime scene from an oncoming train and the elements.
Bound by their common goal to find the taxicab killer, the veteran and the rookie form a symbiotic relationship in which his wisdom and experience are complemented by her powers of observation and tenacity. However, the benefits of their relationship soon extend beyond their professional duties-- he provides her the self-confidence and support to conquer her personal demons, while she gives him a reason to overcome his worst fears about his debilitating condition. As they work together, they quickly discover that there is a purpose and design to the seemingly random killings, and that they are part of a gruesome game that has only just begun...
The best aspects of "The Bone Collector" lie in the characterizations and relationships between the main characters. Rhyme and Donaghy are two strong characters whose strengths and weaknesses play well off each other, and their scenes together exude an uncommon chemistry. Though Washington spends most of the film sitting in a bed with only the use of one finger and his head to 'act', he is still able to deliver a commanding presence with his expressive performance and accomplished articulation. Jolie, who usually radiates sensuality in her roles, displays excellent range as a spirited yet apprehensive young woman thrust into disquieting circumstances-- it would not be surprising for this role to make Hollywood finally stand up and notice this talented actress (as "Double Jeopardy" did for Ashley Judd). The agreeable cast is also rounded out by a number of scene-stealing supporting roles, including Queen Latifah ("Sphere") as Rhyme's affable yet assertive nurse, Luis Guzman ("Out of Sight") as Rhyme's right-hand man, and Ed O'Neill ("The Spanish Prisoner") as a fellow detective.
Unfortunately, the film's script could have used a bit more work. Jeremy Iacone's script is diminished by the presence of some annoying contrivances and suspense-thriller conventions that immediately collapse the suspension of disbelief. For example, like any well-tread police procedural, this film has the uptight police captain (played by Michael Rooker of "The Replacement Killers") who rains on everybody's parade and pulls everyone off the investigation just as it is about to get interesting. The film's denouement is capped with the 'talking killer' plot device, in which the unmasked serial killer clumsily explains the reason behind the elaborate murders in a torrent of verbal diarrhea. And speaking of the killer, many moviegoers will probably be able to figure out who the killer is within the first half-hour, since the film also features the 'guest star killer syndrome' (whenever watching a 'whodunit', if you see a somewhat well-known actor in a seemingly minor and nonessential role in the beginning of the film, then that character is most likely the killer). Unfortunately, even with the tight and fast-paced direction of Phillip Noyce ("Clear and Present Danger"), these narrative eyesores are too big to ignore or forgive.
"The Bone Collector" had the potential to be an impressive entry in the 'killer thriller' sub-genre with its likable characters and impressive performances. Unfortunately, these two elements end up being wasted on a script that could have been a bit more creative in telling the story and tying up the loose ends. As a result, "The Bone Collector" fares no better than as an entertaining diversion for a rainy day-- what a waste.