Rated R - Running Time: 1:43 - Released 4/6/01

Morgan Freeman has distinguished himself time and time again as a solid actor, although he is seldom cast in the leading part. In Lee Tamahori's Along Came A Spider, Freeman takes the spotlight, recreating his role as Detective Alex Cross from Gary Fleder's 1997 thriller Kiss The Girls. The film marks the screenwriting debut of Marc Moss; his text is based on the novel by James Patterson, who also wrote the novel Kiss The Girls. Spider definitely has its share of unlikely plot elements, but since I haven't read the book, I don't know whether these are lifted from the source or the responsibility of the screenwriter. In addition to giving Freeman a meatier role than he usually gets, the film also allows actress Monica Potter to show some talent and recover from the debacle that was Head Over Heels, her recent brain-dead romance, and gives Toronto-born, Juilliard-trained actor Michael Wincott some exposure as the crafty villain Det. Cross must outwit.

Along Came A Spider can only be called a sequel to Kiss The Girls in that it features Cross as its main character; otherwise it is unrelated to the other film. The noted Washington, D.C., detective and criminal profiler is called in when a man who patterns himself after Bruno Hauptmann (the man executed in 1934 for kidnapping the Lindbergh baby) abducts the daughter of a U.S. senator from her prestigious private school. In fact, the abductor (Michael Wincott), who goes by the name Gary Soneji, phones Cross himself, as if drawing him into some kind of cat-and-mouse game. Soneji has been posing as a teacher at the school for years, wearing a wig and prosthetic face (see "unlikely plot elements" section above). When he exits the building with the sedated girl hidden in a computer cabinet, he creates quite a stir, especially since the school has been under heavy security surveillance by the Secret Service for two years with Special Agent Jezzie Flannigan (Potter) in charge. Soon Cross and Flannigan join forces to find Soneji, who keeps giving them obscure clues and cryptic messages. But when they finally confront the man, they find he doesn't have the girl anymore. Now they must work even harder to discover the true villain.

This movie is successful more because of the calibre of its actors and script than believability of plot. I don't know how close Moss's story is to that of Patterson's book, but there are several major events that should make any discerning moviegoer say, "Whaaaa?" The opening sequence, for instance, which involves Cross losing his partner in a tragic accident, is not only ridiculous, but so glossed over it seems utterly unnecessary. Still, Freeman and Potter serve adequately, as does Mika Boorem as the abducted child. Like its 1997 predecessor, Spider is satisfyingly thrilling, which, I suppose, is its purpose, but in a cheap, pulpy sort of way that seems designed for the common-sense challenged. ***½

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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