The Bone Collector (1999) is neither the name of my sex tape nor my autobiography but is in fact a mediocre crime thriller in the vein of the far superior Se7en. Denzel Washington plays the improbably named Lincoln Rhyme, a brilliant forensic scientist confined to a hospital bed in his gargantuan New York apartment having been paralyzed in the opening scene of the movie by a falling concrete beam. Completely dependent upon his nurse Queen Latifah (yes, really), Rhyme discusses assisted suicide with his doctor however it’s not long before he rediscovers his passion for life in the form of a series of gruesome murders committed by a serial killer with a penchant for staging elaborate crime scenes.
Beat cop Amelia Donaghy (Angelina Jolie) chances upon the first of these grisly homicides and photographs the scene using a disposable camera. Impressed by Amelia’s innate ability despite her lack of formal training and with the rest of the New York City Police Department’s forensic investigation team apparently all on holiday or otherwise unavailable, Rhyme recruits her to be his eyes and ears in the field as he sets about solving the crime. The rest of the movie consists mainly of sequences in which Amelia movies through poorly lit underground chambers or abandoned factories explaining what the viewer can already see to the bed-ridden Rhyme over radio. The homicides themselves are decoded either by incredible coincidence or by Rhyme dragging obscure facts from the back of his head and the killer’s identity is simultaneously both obvious based on the laws of Hollywood screenwriting (i.e. that we see the killer in the first 10 minutes of the movie) and unexpected in that his motive is contrived and unhinted at until it is clumsily explained in the final five minutes of the movie.
Hamstrung by a workmanlike screenplay adapted from Jeffrey Deaver’s novel of the same name, Washington and Jolie’s performances are easily the best thing about the movie. Academy Award winner Washington has made a career out of elevating projects from below average into something approaching watchability through the sheer weight of his charisma and talent. Supported ably by a number of fantastic character actors such as Michael Rooker’s obligatory police Captain Cheney who of course frustrates attempts to solve the case and Luis Guzman’s quirky tech guy, The Bone Collector is not a bad movie but it’s not a good one either, remaining competent, uninspired and derivative throughout its running time which clocks in at almost 2 hours.
It would be remiss of me to fail to mention a puzzling and under-developed romantic sub-plot between Rhyme and Amelia that feels completely unearned in the context of their relationship which appears to be more like that of mentor/mentee. I genuinely laughed out loud in a scene containing a close-up of Angelina Jolie stroking Denzel Washington’s finger – the only part of his body below the neck he can move – which is filmed amidst dimmed lighting and music appropriate for a sex scene.
If you are a fan of the genre or indeed either of the lead actors, you may well enjoy this. For my money Harold Becker’s Sea of Love also featuring Rooker is the superior dark and moody serial killer movie set in New York City and not just because it contains a scenery chewing performance from Al Pacino and the music of Lionel Richie but due to that movies confident use of misdirection and avoidance of cliché.
Australian director Phillip Noyce has Dead Calm, Blind Fury and Patriot Games on his CV which all pre-date this movie and followed this up with Rabbit-Proof Fence which I have not seen but received mostly positive reviews, so he has pedigree. Noyce teamed up with Jolie again on the spy-movie Salt which was enjoyably preposterous although its action scenes were largely visual gibberish full of wobbly cameras and ridiculous edits. He was attached to a Bloodsport remake for a long time although that project appears to have died and most recently his career seems to have nose-dived into a string of TV Movies (including a made for television remake of Gone Baby Gone). He currently has 5 movies in pre-production, let’s hope at least one of them turns out to be a Noyce time at the cinema (sorry).