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Along Came a Spider Print E-mail
Tuesday, 25 September 2001

Along Came a Spider

Paramount Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: R (violence and language)
starring: Morgan Freeman, Monica Potter, Michael Wincott, Penelope Ann Miller
release year: 2001
film rating: Three Stars
sound/picture: Three Stars
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

If you can get past some improbabilities, "Along Came a Spider" is a pretty good thriller, with a riveting performance from star Morgan Freeman and one genuinely startling plot twist. The film does suffer from a common thriller-genre malady – it never fulfills its early promise of acute psychological insight – but it’s fast-paced and entertaining.

Freeman, reprising his Detective Alex Cross role from "Kiss the Girls," loses his partner under traumatic circumstances in the opening sequence. Eight months later, he is jolted out of his guilt and grief when he’s assigned to a high-profile kidnapping case – at the request of the kidnapper (Michael Wincott), who has his own reasons for wanting Cross on the case. Cross finds himself teamed with the self-blaming Secret Service agent (Monica Potter) who had been assigned guard to the kidnap victim, a resourceful little girl (Mika Boorem) who’s the daughter of a U.S. senator.

Reportedly, in real life, senators’ children are not protected by the Secret Service, but this detail works well enough in the universe of "Along Came a Spider" for us to accept it. Lee Tamahori’s snappy direction of the script by Marc Moss, based on James Patterson’s novel, moves along at a speed that allows us to take quite a few things on faith . Certainly Freeman, with his kindly, melancholy gravity, can convince us that everything Cross does is real, necessary and ultimately morally right. Most actors would come across like cartoon superheroes if they even attempted to exude this kind of decency and conviction, but Freeman makes it look as effortless and organic as breathing. Potter is likable as the determined Jessie and Wincott projects intelligence with just a hint of derangement. Boorem is forthright and spunky without becoming cloying.

There are a number of big setpiece stunts in "Spider," along with some intriguing sound effects. What seems to be a worrying systemic glitch in Chapter 1 turns out to be a symphony of electronic surveillance equipment, buzzing and clattering from various nicely separated spatial locations. An onscreen voice distorter in Chapter 3 creates a crunchy effect that momentarily overlaps into a little bit of Potter’s live dialogue (a minor complaint, to be sure). The chapter also contains a grand surround rain effect in all speakers that returns in Chapter 7. Chapter 5 not only has good, punchy gunshots but an intriguing vertical effect, with upstairs footsteps placed in the right main creating an illusion of being above rather than beside the listener. Chapter 6 has some very well-realized audio point of view effects, with continuing sound that goes from normal volume to muffled and back again, depending on whether we’re with the characters inside or outside. There’s also a soft but startling directional gunshot in the right rear. Jerry Goldsmith’s music score makes strong use of bass and horns, at times reminiscent of his classic work on "Planet of the Apes."

The making-of featurette on "Along Came a Spider" is fairly standard, but the feature’s ultra-widescreen aspect ratio is handsome and provides rich visual depth. A film buff note: actress Boorem and Anton Yelchin, the young actor playing her school chum here, are reteamed in the current theatrical release "Hearts in Atlantis."

"Along Came a Spider" dips slightly once it moves past its crucial surprise, with a finale that’s a touch anti-climactic. It’s never quite as smart as both it and we wish it were, but the movie still delivers old-fashioned moments of audience discovery and some good action, along with the great pleasure of Freeman’s authoritative company. As thrillers go, it’s worth watching.

more details
sound format:
English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround; English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, French Dolby Surround
aspect ratio(s):
Widescreen (no aspect ratio specified)
special features: Making-Of Featurette; Theatrical Trailer; Chapter Search; English Subtitles
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 27-inch Toshiba

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