Rated R - Running Time: 1:53 - Released 9/28/01

Michael Douglas is back to doing what he does best in Gary Fleder's Don't Say A Word, namely playing the part of a regular guy under the control of a psycho. Based on the book by Andrew Klavan, adapted for the screen by Anthony Peckham and Patrick Smith Kelly, this is a first-class child-abduction thriller not unlike many we've seen before (including Fleder's own Kiss The Girls), but it's generally effective despite the well-worn pretext and a few credibility gaps. Douglas heads a talented cast, bringing his own patented sweaty calm to the table and laying it on with the judicious subtlety of a pro. Director Fleder, who has taken time out to do some TV directing in the last few years, returns for his first feature film since Girls, showing he's still got the knack for crafting a standard 2-hour thriller that would make even the most jaded moviegoer fidget.

Douglas plays New York psychologist Dr. Nathan Conrad, whose expertise with mentally disturbed youths brings him in contact with 18-year-old wacko Elizabeth Burrows (Brittany Murphy), who apparently just killed a man with her bare hands for some mysterious reason. On their first meeting, she tells Dr. Conrad, "You want what they want;" although he is baffled as to what this means, he soon finds out when his own 8-year-old daughter Jessie (Skye McCole Bartusiak) is abducted. Over the phone, the head kidnapper (Sean Bean) tells him that Elizabeth has a six-digit number buried somewhere in her subconscious, and if he ever wants to see Jessie again, he'd better get it out of her by sundown. Having no idea what the number is for, he leaves his distraught wife Aggie (Famke Janssen), who is in traction with a broken leg, at home and attempts to get to the bottom of Elizabeth's troubled psyche.

As it turns out, the number will reveal the location of a priceless red diamond which Elizabeth's deceased father stole from the heavies 10 years ago during a bank robbery. Since then, they have been serving time for killing him, and she has been descending into madness from watching them kill him. But Dr. Conrad knows none of this, nor does NYPD Detective Sandra Cassidy (Jennifer Esposito), working independently on the case. Also present is Oliver Platt as Conrad's colleague, Dr. Louis Sachs, who is equally tense but not nearly as cool under pressure. Eventually, just about all of the above come together at a cemetery on Hart Island for an old-fashioned game of Who-Gets-To-Inhabit-The-Freshly-Dug-Grave. Hint: it isn't Michael Douglas.

This is one of those films where the crooks have apparently unlimited financial resources, affording them the most state-of-the-art equipment with which to carry out their shadowy agenda, including high-end computers, cell phones, and various strategically placed surveillance devices, even though no one explains how they get them into the places they are. For instance, they not only have at least four different cameras in Conrad's apartment—so they can watch his sexy, bed-bound wife from every angle in case she decides to strip for their entertainment—but also a hidden microphone in Elizabeth's cell at the psycho ward. I mean, how did they know she was going to get that room?

But despite its sometimes befuddling details, Don't Say A Word is definitely effective at its purpose of maintaining tension. Director Fleder gets the ol' pressure cooker going and raises the temperature steadily during the entire show, and Douglas does his part as the man under pressure. It's just too bad Glen Close isn't around to boil up some rabbit stew. ****

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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