Murder by Numbers

1 bone dogRated: R
Stars: Sandra Bullock, Ben Chaplin, Ryan Gosling, Michael Pitt
Director: Barbet Schroeder
Writer: Tony Gayton

Murder by Numbers plays like a movie by the numbers but at least the numbers are in the right place.

Sandra Bullock plays Cassie Mayweather, a bulldog detective with a troubling past and a new partner to break in. It’s a classic buddy cop scenario with Cassie proving herself competent but difficult to work with. She has run-ins with her boss and runs through partners like water. Her latest is rookie Sam Kennedy (Ben Chaplin), a by-the-book operator, who matches up quite nicely against Bullock’s bullheaded Cassie. He’s sensitive and caring, even while being brushed off by her after an ill-advised sexual encounter between them. i liked Chaplin. He’s got an interesting look and does a good job.

After two elitist high-school students commit what they believe is the perfect murder, for no other reason than to prove that they can get away with it, Cassie and Sam are led on a wild goose chase to locate the killer, who everyone but Cassie believes is the poor schnook school janitor.

Cassie’s got good instincts. She also holds a deep grudge against the type of kid she sees in Richard Haywood (Ryan Gosling), a cocky, intelligent, smart dressing, rich kid, who’s the envy of most of his classmates. Something tells her that Richard’s more than a little involved and that another kid, Justin Pendleton (Michael Pitt), a nerdy, loner who borders on genius, is hiding critical information to the case. Now all she has to do is prove it with very little help from her superiors. It’s a tug of war to get Sam’s support but he tries his best to stay in the loop and on Cassie’s good side.

You know her feelings about the case have to do with something unpleasant in her past. Cassie’s got major issues. It’s all about the job and no one can get too close. All the clues are there. And her relationship with Sam suffers greatly because of it.

More interesting, perhaps, is the relationship between Richard and Justin. There’s a psychological undertow and maybe even a little sexual tension thrown in to boot. Richard maintains an oppressive hold over Justin at times but he also relies on Justin’s wit to carry out the deed. Tripping up the cops is good fun to them. Hell, they have nothing better to do, it seems, than shop, play on the computer and plant misinformation. Too bad these guys couldn’t have channeled their brain power into something better. Both boys do a terrific job in their respective roles.

Ryan Gosling manages to look menacing and charming all in one take and has the same qualities of that wonderful actor, Edward Norton. Michael Pitt’s baby face and tentative manner makes him sympathetic, which is all the more scary.

Lotta says: This makes for a good Sandra Bullock vehicle; she knows how to be tough when she needs to be and vulnerable too. One confrontation scene between Cassie and Richard, however, where he taunts her, is quite ridiculous and is the low point of the screenplay. Predictability, aside, Murder By Numbers is a sufficiently interesting film and Bullock fans won’t be disappointed.

Reviewed 4/20/02