Along Came a Spider

             Advertising executive James Patterson made his debut as a mystery
     novelist in 1976 with the award-winning
The Thomas Berryman Number, but
     he really hit pay dirt in the early 1990s with his series of books built around
     police detective-psychologist Alex Cross that all had lines from nursery rhymes
     as titles. The second in the series 1995's
KISS THE GIRLS was filmed in
     1997, catapulting Ashley Judd to mainstream recognition and offering Morgan
     Freeman the meaty role of Cross. It's no surprise, then, that Freeman has
     returned to the character in
ALONG CAME A SPIDER, based on the 1993

             Fans of the series will be in for disappointment, however. Just as in
KISS THE GIRLS, extensive changes have been made to the story and
     characters in
ALONG CAME A SPIDER. (Those unfamiliar with the books or
     those who only know  of Alex Cross from the first film probably will enjoy it

             Freeman has a commanding yet calming screen presence and he turns
     the character to his advantage. While the movie makers have opted to give
     short shrift to his personal life (in the books, Cross is a widower with two
     small children), they do focus on him at what he does best, keenly observing
     and excelling at profiling criminals.

             The film opens with a stakeout that goes awry, leaving Cross to deal
     with a personal tragedy by taking an extended vacation. He's called back
     to active duty, not by his superiors but by a kidnapper who telephones him
     with the challenge to locate the kidnapped daughter of a US Senator.
     Spurred to action, Cross joins the investigation, ruffling the feathers of
     the territorial chief detective (Dylan Baker) and insisting that disgraced
     Secret Service agent Jezzie Flannigan (Monica Potter), on whose watch the
     abduction took place, be reinstated to the case, claiming that she probably
     knows more that she realizes.

             The authorities end up playing a game of cat and mouse with the
     kidnapper, and screenwriter Marc Moss piles on the twists. Those paying
     close attention might spot some of the clues early on, but there's one plot
     development that is rather shocking. To say anything more would be unfair
     to the film or its audience.

             Freeman is one of America's finest actors and he is nearly always
     interesting to watch. Despite the differences between the character in the
     novel and the one the actor brings to life on screen, Alex Cross remains a
     fascinating figure. The epitome of cool, calm and collected, he spends a
     great deal of time in observation before taking action. Monica Potter
     does a fine job as the vulnerable agent, negotiating her varied emotions
     from confidence to self-doubt. Michael Wincott is creepily effective as the
     abductor and young Mika Boorem as the victim demonstrates a plucky screen
     presence. As the girl's parents, Michael Moriarty and Penelope Ann Miller
     have little to do but look and act worried, although Miller attempts to infuse
     something more into her characterization.
             Lee Tamahori, who made a stunning directorial debut with
, has become somewhat typecast helming thrillers in the USA,
     often with mixed results (e.g.,
     fared better on the small screen helming an episode of HBO's acclaimed
"The Sopranos." With ALONG CAME A SPIDER, he shows a nice command
     in building tension and keeping the audience off-kilter without resorting to
     overly showy camera techniques. For instance, a somewhat cliché sequence
     involving Cross running across Washington, DC to deliver a ransom is
     handled with panache.

             Again, fans of Patterson's novels may be very disappointed in the                 
      film adaptation. (Undoubtedly the author is laughing all the way to the
     bank.) For everyone else,
ALONG CAME A SPIDER can be classified as
     a modest and entertaining thriller.

Rating:                        B-
                     MPAA Rating:               R for violence and language
Running time:               104 mins.

© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.