Synopsis – A homicide detective teams up with a criminal profiler to catch a serial killer whose crimes are inspired by the children’s game Hangman.
My Take – As a regular cinema goer I obviously love a good murder mystery. Throw in a genius serial killer playing deadly games with the likes of Al Pacino & Karl Urban into the mix and we have a promising script. From Se7en to The Chaser, this is a setup that’s resulted in greatness while still leaving flexibility in its narrative and characters. While actor Al Pacino has excelled in a similar role in excellent films like Sea of Love and Cruising, this film disappointingly reminds of another serial killer based thriller Pacino starred in called Righteous Kill from 2008, where he reunited with fellow acting titan Robert De Niro, in which both legends got taken down by a ripe script and suspect editing. While the film has some interesting ideas, the execution sadly stoops the film quite low with end result leaving a lot to be desired. Working as a lighter version of director David Fincher’s Se7en, director Johnny Martin throws in a couple of car chases, the occasional fast cutting, and some tepid gore to cover over the clichés, except it’s all not as invisible as they might have thought.
The story follows Archer (Al Pacino), a retired police detective Archer, who bides his time by doing crossword puzzles, outside of a donuts shop. While his former colleague Will Ruiney (Karl Urban), still disturbed by the brutal and unsolved murder of his wife, is tasked with allowing Christi Davies (Brittany Snow), a investigative journalist to shadow him during his investigations. However when the duo comes across the works of a serial killer dubbed The Hangman, who not only strings up his victims but leaves behind cryptic clues modeled on the morbid children’s word game, Ruiney requests Archer to come out of retirement to pursue the all-too-real bogeyman before more innocent life is lost. The film is as formulaic in its structure as they come. With a premise this moldy, the film never qualifies as either a Seven or Saw rip-off; either way, its sell-by date is well expired, especially since there’s no attempt to invigorate this playful, twisted game formula. There are all sorts of issues with this film including the screenplay, which really seemed like a first draft that needed a couple re-writes. I say that because there are a few logical errors with the film and it seems confused as to what it’s trying to do. Bland thrillers can still entertain, but unfortunately this one doubles down on its sins by also being incredibly idiotic and unnecessarily convoluted. What makes the film even worse is that the direction by Johnny Martin just never manages to build any sort of suspense. From the opening sequence to the awful ending, the entire film just doesn’t have any tension and it just has a very cheap feel to it. The film actually starts out quite clever and almost convinced me that reviews may have been wrong, and then it went too far and conclusions drawn and connections made were silly and beyond a rational thinking person. In fact, one of the script’s biggest blunders is essentially keeping the audience in the dark: sure, this enigmatic killer is playing hangman with the detectives, but none of the clues really ever mean anything to the audience, leaving them to sit around and wait for the characters to unravel them and breeze onto the next scene. The central thread of the crimes is the use of the hangman game by a daily kill. Don’t ask how the perp can possibly string his murders together with intricate staging in such a compact time frame. This fact is supposed to be horrendously creepy and sinister one is to suppose? It comes off quite silly. The game also made no sense whatsoever. It was so contrived and just didn’t help the story at all. There is no logical explanation behind it, yet it is supposed to be this big important clue that will tie the detectives to this crazy serial killer.
The serial killer’s master plan in that film relies on the single hope that the cops investigating the case are smart enough to notice all of his abstract clues while managing to make connections between the victims and figuring things out at the exact right time. But because ‘Se7en’ was so well done, its deeply contrived plot endured against any real scrutiny, this one, on the other hand, earns no such free pass because it is just risible nonsense. As directed by Johnny Martin with all the suspense of a really gory episode of NCIS, this police procedural lacks the commitment necessary to fuel its familiar premise with anything resembling tension or even the ability to invest concern for its hapless buddy heroes. It also has the obligatory police captain who is angry at his or her subordinates. It also has the obligatory detective who can’t seem to retire or is coming out of retirement for one last gig and then there is the woeful finale where the killer monologues some motivation for all the murders and you realize just how nonsensical his master plan has been. The weakest element in the script is the inclusion of the journalist. Her presence is fine, and Snow gives a competent performance, but her every moment is another example of illogical and unrealistic behavior. She tramps all through crime scenes without gloves or concern for contaminating the evidence, and more than once she enters a dangerous area while her armed handlers are in search of the suspect. It’s dumb behavior worsened by the film’s acceptance of it as normal. Perhaps as a way of balancing her dumbfounding ignorance, though, she’s also the one who’s constantly finding new clues the actual detectives have missed. The one time Archer makes a connection — a realization that wraps up the case — it serves only to confirm that he should have had these dots connected long before then. You stick with the film because of Al Pacino but even he can’t save the mess of a screenplay, which just doesn’t do enough to make it more entertaining. Pacino deserves better material. We’ve seen this guy conquer this genre plenty of times before and the fact that he has been relegated to starring in this down market VOD feature is the most insulting part of the whole viewing experience. Perhaps he should have called it a day at the turn of the millennium and taken early retirement because his career post-2002 has been a downward spiral ever since. Here he chooses to sleepwalk through much of the film and his outbursts are muted, his energy is lacking, and he looks like someone who woke up mere moments before the camera started rolling. Karl Urban does a solid job showing some investment in his character’s troubles. Urban commits to every role big or small, be it in a quality film or schlock, and bless him if he doesn’t try to make Ruiney more than the sum of his clichés. Brittany Snow has certainly impressed audiences with her performances in many of their films, but she feel a bit off in this one. Sarah Shahi just seemed too young to be cast as the captain of the police department. On the whole, ‘Hangman‘ is a lackluster thriller that remains an empty and perfunctory experience from beginning to end.
Directed – Johnny Martin
Rated – R
Run Time – 98 minutes