Murder By Numbers
**.9 GM
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Ben Chaplin, Ryan Gosling, Michael Pitt, Agnes Bruckner


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The day before I saw this film, I'd learned that "Miss Congeniality 2" was in pre-production. My exact response was "You're goddamned kidding me." So I went into this film prepared to start off my review of it with a scolding "Sandy, Sandy, Sandy.... tsk tsk. What is wrong with you? I want to love you! Pick good scripts!" The only reason I've qualified it now is that this movie wasn't as bad as I thought it'd be, but I'm still in a bit of condescension mode over that little sequel nugget. Come ON. What happens next? A bunch of pageant bimbos disguise themselves as cops now for some reason? She has to go undercover in a drag queen revue? She has to stop aliens from entering the Miss Universe pageant?

I'd heard going in that she'd be playing a "hard-ass" of some sort in this flick, or at least "butch," so that's another reason I was prepared to be Scoldy McLookdownmynose. As significant as my crush on her used to be, I was pretty well certain that she's not really going to come off as a bad-ass in any way. Even though it turns out her character is more brooding and emotionally damaged than hard-assed... I still didn't completely buy her performance. I don't know if it's because she doesn't have the chops, if the script just wasn't as developed as it needed to be, the direction was shaky or if it's something as shallow as Sandy being "too cute" to pull it off. Whatever's at fault, her character seemed just a little too erratic to seem real. Not to mention there's no real suspense that she'll ever be in any actual peril she won't escape.

What makes this movie watchable are the bad guys - the two self-indulgent high school boys plotting and committing what they think is 'the perfect murder.' There's Justin (Pitt), the bookworm that's a trenchcoat and a facial piercing away from going full-on goth, and Richard (Gosling), a manipulating rich prick. They've got a secret friendship that they downplay during school days, and together, they indulge their 'what the hell, let's kill somebody. We can do this because we think we know everything' pomposity.' Only when Justin actually starts to get a life (which, of course, equals a girlfriend), he also starts to regret what they've done.

Gosling is basically David Arquette before he became insufferably annoying. The trouble is that it becomes harder to watch Gosling at times because it reminds you of how grating Arquette is. Yet he still delivers a decent performance, negative associations aside. Pitt falls neatly into the stereotype idea of the 'loner outcast teen what turns to murder to solve his problems,' but having two teenagers as the central criminals in the story just feels fresh for some reason, perhaps because of the wake of Columbine has aged enough to begin to lift the ban on this particular idea.

Unfortunately, not quite enough is done with it. There's some initial buildup about whether or not "only criminals can truly live free" and other interesting philosophical questions, but it's not thoroughly delved into. I do kinda like the thought that Justin's whole foundation of anti-social misanthropy is shaken to the core when he starts getting some action, though. After all, a little nook-nook could probably go a long way in easing some of the pent-up rage that a lot of these self-righteous ostracized loners suffer through. I know it worked for me when I was feeling on the outs in high school.

That's one to grow on.

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