Serial killers are so yesterday, but Hollywood apparently hasn't gotten the memo, so here's Taking Lives, which gives us Angelina Jolie as a supersonic, supermodel variation on The Silence of the Lambs' Clarice Starling. I say "supermodel" because Jolie looks fantastic -- lips in full bee-stung blossom, body coiled like a panther's. And I say "supersonic" because her character, FBI special agent Illeana Scott, is so much quicker on the uptake than her colleagues that she seems to spend most of the movie in a state of jet lag. Like Sherlock Holmes, Illeana can smell a clue a mile away, solving murders before they're even committed. The difference is that Holmes was never quite so fetching in the bubble-bath scenes.
We're in Montreal, and somebody's been killing guys in their 30s, bashing in their faces and chopping off their hands. So much for dental records and fingerprints, I suppose, and since nobody seems to have heard of DNA, the killer is able to assume the various identities of his victims, "like a hermit crab that outlives its shell." Speaking of aquatic life, the movie sends a number of red herrings our way. Kiefer Sutherland floats by, stays just long enough to make us wonder who the hell he's supposed to be, then swims off. Olivier Martinez, the hunk in Unfaithful, shows up as a local cop who wants Illeana off the case. Why? Does he have something to hide? Who knows? His accent is so thick I couldn't ever make out what he was saying.
And then there's Ethan Hawke as an art dealer who witnessed one of the murders, then offers to draw a sketch of the murderer. The sketch resembles...Ethan Hawke! But that doesn't stop Illeana, otherwise so firmly professional, from cozying up to the jittery canvas-stretcher. Taking Lives wouldn't work at all if Jolie didn't underplay beautifully, standing there while the camera drinks her in. But she can't make up for all the serial-killer-movie clichés -- the psychological profiles, the murder scenes, the blood work. Thanks to shows like "CSI," we've become a nation of forensic specialists, sifting through corpuscles for evidence. Isn't it time to leave the lab behind?
Oh, I forgot to mention that the great Gena Rowlands briefly appears as the killer's mother. Seeing her up there on the screen was like catching Queen Elizabeth taking out the trash.