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Along Came a Spider     

Posted by Katherine Putnam on January 27th, 2012

“They say that when I die, the case will die. They say it will be like a book I close. But the book, it will never close…”

I feel woefully unprepared to comment on this next movie, as I have no familiarity with the source material. Perhaps that doesn’t seem important, but I find there is often a lot to be drawn from what is kept or cut during an adaptation. Plus there’s always the question, which is better, the adaptation or the original version? Spoiler: it’s usually the book, play, etc that the film was based upon. Though there are rare cases where a film improves on the source material. Unfortunately, no examples of that immediately jump to mind.

But I digress.

“I am living proof, that a mind is a terrible thing. ”

 


 
“Wow. Imagine the patience… the dedication…”
“You sound like an admirer.”
“Well, he’s like a spider. I happen to like spiders.”

Director Lee Tamahori’s 2001 crime thriller, Along Came a Spider, is based on the James Patterson novel by the same name. Along Came a Spider stars Morgan Freeman as Alex Cross, marking the second time he has portrayed the character, the first being 1997’s adaptation of Kiss the Girls (again based off the Patterson novel of the same name). I am familiar with both films, but have never read a Patterson book. I have the feeling I’m about to make a few new entries in the “to read” column on my ever growing to do list.

But I digress again.

To quickly sum up and give us a jumping off point, the film opens with the death of Alex Cross’s partner in a sting operation gone wrong and then picks up eight months later with the kidnapping of a senator’s daughter. The kidnapper is insistent on having Cross involved in the case, going so far as to mail him the missing girl’s shoe. Cross is then, inevitably drawn into the case as he works not only to save the girl, but also to puzzle out what is going on…for not everything is as it seems.

Those not wanting to read spoilers should turn back this instant. I mean it. Next paragraph? Spoilers galore.

I enjoy being surprised by a movie. I’m not saying that I’m some silver-screen-savant that can predict every plot twist, but there are enough cliches and poorly written plots out there that I’ve been able to foresee my fair share of twists. So I’m rather pleased when a movie is able to either a) contain a twisty enough twist that I don’t see it coming or b) draw me in and distract me so thoroughly that my cynical movie-going mind stops looking ahead and instead goes along for the ride. I think Along Came a Spider must have employed a little of both, because I did not realize (not until the very moment the movie wanted me to realize it) that Special Agent Jezzie Flannigan was the real Big Bad.

When re-watching the movie in order to write this, I found myself distracted, looking for clues that would alert me to Jezzie’s less than honorable intentions. There aren’t many there. There are the few clues that Cross uses to deduce her involvement in the kidnapping saga, but other than that there are no glaring red flags to be found even on a second viewing.

In a way, I like that. I like that Jezzie’s brand of villain is a bit of an Iago. Much of her dialogue with Cross (regarding the case) makes sense on a surface level. She asks the questions she ought to ask as a Special Agent attempting to solve a kidnapping. However, while her actions and dialogue don’t raise any definitive “I’m guilty!” flags, they do seem to work double duty: she reacts/acts in a manner that does not raise suspicion while subtly guiding and shaping the case to her own ends. Like Iago, she accomplishes (or rather, nearly accomplishes) her goals by acting a part. And, well, wrong as it is, the Iago’s of the fictional world are my favorite type of villain.

One of the things that I really enjoyed about this film was the smart female characters. Not only is Jezzie (the antagonist in protagonist’s clothing) smart and clever, but her victim (the kidnapee, Megan Rose) is also quite clever. On my first viewing I found the Megan Rose character to be rather unrealistic. She remains brave in the face of a kidnapping, nearly escapes her first kidnapper and has the presence of mind to bar the door and work on an escape route from her second kidnapper. Heck, she smashes out a lightbulb so her attacker can’t see where she is.

So is she just a smart kid, or superhuman character? In this case, I’m willing to suspend my healthy amounts of disbelief and argue with myself that Megan Rose is set up to be a fairly intelligent, inquisitive young girl who is not only raised surrounded by Secret Service and likely drilled within an inch of her life on safety/security protocols, but also attends a prestigious private school. It could stand to reason that she be ahead of the average kidnapped kid in keeping her cool and using her brains. Regardless of whether the aforementioned argument holds any water whatsoever, I at least appreciate the Megan Rose character (plausible or not) for offering a Nancy Drew-esque challenge to a newer generation. Sure, maybe a young girl wouldn’t be that cool under pressure. Nancy Drew pulled her share of implausible escapes. However, girls need more characters that present as strong, savvy women, not more crying, helpless nitwits.

Like the character of Megan Rose, I can argue myself in or out of a negative impression of Along Came a Spider. In its defense, when I am actively engrossed in watching the movie, I am well and truly engrossed. I’m drawn in by Morgan Freeman’s performance, the soundtrack helps keep my vicarious adrenaline up, and I’m (still, despite already knowing the outcome) tense over the safety of Megan Rose and the resolution of the crime.

However, as soon as I take a step back to reflect (and as soon as I accidentally stumble across professional reviews when looking for the movie poster and quotes), I can admit that the movie is…not the most brilliant piece of work ever. I won’t use anything I saw in the professional reviews, as my goal for these posts is to practice expressing my own opinion, so instead I’ll briefly focus on a few…mediocre elements that I found during my reflection.

Monica Potter works as Jezzie Flannigan, and by that I mean she remains below our suspicion radar, mostly because Monica Potter’s acting is tantamount to a slice of Wonder Bread. She’s pretty in that bland, blond way that Hollywood loves to shove at us, but beyond that she doesn’t bring anything particularly special to the table. Placed beside a strong, talented actor like Morgan Freeman, she fails to truly hold her own. There’s nothing glaringly wrong with her performance, but there’s nothing particularly right about it either. Frankly, Mika Boorem (Megan Rose) leaves a much better impression than Potter.

The plot is decent, but I found the reveal (of Jezzie’s involvement) rather rushed considering it’s the climax of the movie AND far more time is spent on Morgan Freeman running around the city on a ransom drop (which felt like it belonged more in Die Hard With a Vengeance than in Along Came a Spider). Upon further reflection, the pacing of the entire movie felt a little off, though none of the other sequences stand out as much as the rushed climax.

On the whole, as I reach the end of this review, I find myself wanting to read James Patteron’s book. I want to know the “real” story of Along Came a Spider. Heck, I want to know why Cross considers Gary Soneji (the original kidnapper) a “spider.” (Or, for that matter, is that line even present in the book? Does the titular spider reference something else in the novel?) Most of all, I have the suspicion that reading the book will only confirm my suspicions that this book/movie duo will fall into the category of adaptations that failed to do justice to their source material.

Ah well, maybe one day I’ll find a movie that’s actually better than the book on which it was based. We’ll see. As the Professor says, “A man can dream though. A man can dream.”

In conclusion, watch Along Came a Spider if your looking for quick entertainment. It works well enough as a thriller, the key phrase being “well enough.”

NEXT TIME: Amélie


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