Along Came a Spider

(Lee Tamahori, USA, 2001)


Kiss the Girls (1997) was dismissed in some quarters as a cheap knock-off of Seven (1995), but it stands up as one of the better entries in the psycho-genius-vs.-obsessed-cop cycle. Much of its quality derived from the combination of Gary Fleder’s atmospheric direction and a fine script by David Klass.

Along Came a Spider, again adapted from a James Patterson novel, behaves like most sequels. It tries to recreate the thrill of the original – even down to duplicating its basic structure – while inevitably diluting its force. The director this time around is Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors [1994]), continuing his string of fairly undistinguished American assignments, and the script is by Marc Moss.

It takes the steel-trap mind of Alex Cross (Morgan Freeman) to figure out the pattern underlying the clues strewn artfully behind by the mysterious Soneji (Michael Wincott) after he has kidnapped a young girl from an exclusive school. Soneji, it seems, is not in it for the kicks, but to become a celebrity – in the manner of the kidnapper of the Lindbergh baby. Rookie cop Jezzie (Monica Potter) must prove herself as Alex’s able assistant in the case.

The most curious aspect of this sequel is its complete lack of a Gothic dimension. The element of psychosexual menace was strong in Kiss the Girls; here, by contrast, even the obvious possibilities for perversity are suppressed. For an abductor of young girls, Soneji turns out to be a perfect gentleman. A curious puppy-love angle also goes nowhere.

The best paranoid thrillers of recent years conjure malevolent webs of interconnection between diverse details that add up to an ugly, disquieting picture. The cleverest directors in this genre allow the audience room for a little hallucination, to imagine the worst before it actually materialises.

Sadly, in all respects, Along Came a Spider tends to reduce its most intriguing features of this sort to functional, mechanical plot manoeuvres as it proceeds. The best part of the film comes early on, with a mind-boggling exploration of computer and internet technology. But this simply disappears when it is no longer needed for exposition purposes.

Still, Along Came a Spider is a painless, efficient viewing experience – thanks to the dependable Freeman and a few plot moves that manage, against the odds, to be thrilling and surprising.

MORE Tamahori: The Edge, Die Another Day

© Adrian Martin August 2001

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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