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Overall Rating

Awesome: 1.12%
Worth A Look: 16.85%
Just Average: 21.35%
Pretty Crappy44.94%
Sucks: 15.73%

9 reviews, 35 user ratings

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Don't Say a Word
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by Andrew Howe

"A predictable thriller is the greatest crime of all"
2 stars

In my “Promised But Not Delivered” filing cabinet, Don’t Say a Word bridges the gap between Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and Enemy at the Gates. The dossier contains photographs of three individuals: Michael Douglas, whose intense performance in The Game proved that he’s an asset to any thriller; Gary Fleder, whose collaboration with Scott Rosenberg on Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead redefined the post-Tarantino crime genre; and the nameless editor who spliced together the suitably chilling trailer.

Unfortunately, you will also find a publicity shot of Famke Janssen, an actress whose continuing disdain for her roles made the rest of the performers in House on Haunted Hill look like they’d spent a decade on the British stage; a copy of the script, which is required reading for my upcoming seminar on money, mediocrity and mendacity (the Hollywood mantra); and a letter from my lawyer, explaining that “Terminal stupidity on the part of everyone involved” is not a valid reason for garrotting a studio executive with a ten foot strip of the film in question (but with a handwritten postscript noting that it damn well should be).

The thriller genre is no place for the unwary, since successful creations rely upon tight, intricately plotted storylines; interesting characters who may or may not be everything they seem; and atmospheric visuals that complement the escalating tension. Don’t Say a Word features none of these things, leaving us with a limp, predictable runaround that makes the execrable Desperate Hours look positively Hitchcockian.

Here’s the set-up: after an opening sequence that somehow manages to invest a bank heist with all the excitement of an episode of Gladiators, we are introduced to Nathan Conrad (Michael Douglas), loving family man and psychiatrist extraordinaire. His buddy Louis (Oliver Platt) introduces him to Elisabeth Burrows (Brittany Murphy), a psychotic, semi-catatonic patient at the local asylum. In short order we discover that Elisabeth possesses some kind of information that she won’t reveal under pain of death, but the criminals from the opening heist threaten Conrad‘s family with exactly that if he can’t get the information out of her in the next ten hours. Matters are complicated by the unwelcome intrusion of Jennifer Esposito as a cop who threatens to blow the whole thing apart, and from there the film works its way to a conclusion that most viewers will see coming by the halfway point.

There’s a reason why Richard North Patterson and Dan Simmons are making a great deal of money writing thrillers and the scriptwriters (Anthony Peckham and Patrick Smith Kelly) are not, and their greatest crime is to ignore a concept which underpins practically every successful entry in the genre: the audience must always be one step behind. The moment they get ahead of the game, you’ve lost your single greatest weapon, which is (all together now) “the element of surprise”.

Do you remember your delight at those unexpected (but entirely logical, once you appreciated the entire arc of events) revelations in Se7en? Well, you won’t be experiencing any of that here, because the opening sequence makes it patently obvious that the dark secret lurking in Elisabeth’s brain has something to do with the ill-gotten gains from the heist. The scriptwriters start out trying to hide her identity, but give it up once they realise that we probably figured it out within sixty seconds of meeting her, and proceed to craft what may be the first thriller in history not to feature a single plot twist for its entire duration (I’m exaggerating for effect, of course - there’s one towards the end, but it fractures the narrative at a time when it should be heading full steam for the climax).

You want a side order of inexplicable actions and dubious coincidences with your predictable storyline? Step right up, folks, because we’ve got villains who impose ridiculous deadlines for no better reason than to add a little tension to the mix (there’s some guff about Elisabeth’s impending transfer, but given the level of planning required to get the caper off the ground it’s suspiciously convenient); psychiatrists who just happen to offer their patient a doll that’s an exact replica of the one she owned as a child (can anyone spell “breakthrough”?); and double-crossing jewel thieves who pull off switcheroos requiring split-second timing but are incapable of formulating a workable getaway plan.

You want characters you’d happily murder yourself given half a chance? Tick ’em off the list: a plucky psychiatrist’s wife who specialises in displays of sickening marital bliss and exaggerated hysterics; a painful kid cast from the “self-sufficient annoying brat” mould beloved of Hollywood scriptwriters who fail to realise that a young girl’s natural reaction to life-threatening danger is to burst into tears for the duration; a garden-variety psycho who reminds us why Sean Bean’s complexion is starting to resemble a sheet of cardboard; and a thoroughly distasteful cop who tells a poor slob that they’ve just fished the love of his life out of the river and offers him abuse for consolation.

You want atmosphere with a capital “A”? Fleder does his best, but the production designer gives him little to work with (the psychiatric institution is a disgrace to snake-pit asylums everywhere, which ideally mirror the madness of the residents), and the cast are too busy grappling with their poorly-scripted characters to lend a hand (even David Fincher would have switched to autopilot before the halfway point).

Positives? Michael Douglas shows the occasional flash of inspiration (though most of the time he amuses himself by impersonating a block of wood), Murphy looks genuinely disturbed (which is probably the result of evaluating her future career prospects), and their unnerving initial meeting is as good as anything out there. It’s not enough to save the film, however, so we’ll write it off as incurable and mark Fleder and Douglas down for rehabilitation. They may be hooked on easy money, but it’s never too late to kick the habit.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=5535&reviewer=193
originally posted: 10/29/01 17:06:18
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User Comments

12/28/17 morris campbell good not great 4 stars
6/28/13 Janie Ridiculous. A big "S" for SuperShrink on his chest or what ? 2 stars
12/05/08 Shaun Wallner This movie stinks!! 2 stars
3/28/08 Pamela White suspenseful drama 4 stars
12/14/06 Ronin Not really a great movie but above average. 4 stars
12/02/06 David Pollastrini not great, not terrible 4 stars
10/01/05 merp somewhat boring, just uninteresting plot, Bean solid as Bean is 2 stars
8/23/05 ES I couldn't by into the premise, just a real let down 2 stars
3/16/05 tatum Entertaining enough suspenser 4 stars
6/30/04 R.W. Welch Overplotted potboiler finally loses all credibility but holds you most of the way. 3 stars
5/21/04 Dean Rapp Well made, but the diamond look too small for all the effort 3 stars
5/03/04 john bale Rather silly thriller hardly lifted by aged Douglas, though Brittany Murphy tries hard 3 stars
8/20/02 I Can't Swim I enjoyed it much more than I expected to. Brittany great, once again 4 stars
8/03/02 KMG TRITE AND TYPICAL 3 stars
4/17/02 Monday Morning Did Michael Douglas get a face job or what? 2 stars
3/05/02 Jenny Tullwartz Watchable action fare, tamer than the previews made it look. 4 stars
3/02/02 Dave Draper A stylish but inconsistant downer, looks like it was edited with a meat cleaver! 2 stars
2/24/02 The Bomb 69 "I'll never tell..." you this was a good film. 3 stars
1/31/02 daria this film moved me, i thought it was amazing 5 stars
12/20/01 Tinka plot was bad, acting worse. I rooted for the baddie at the end. 2 stars
11/30/01 Phoenix Although very implausible, Don't Say A Word is a very entertaining film. 4 stars
11/10/01 TG I liked it; it was well acted which more than compensated for the predictable story line 4 stars
10/29/01 carla sanchez it was lame, i wasted precious sleeping time watching this movie 1 stars
10/28/01 Johnny Bravo This was completely different than what i thought it was going to be 3 stars
10/25/01 Nisha It was ok, but it could've been extremely better. 3 stars
10/17/01 Catherine Schneider I liked the twists and turns. Many thrillers don't thrill, but this kept the suspense. 4 stars
10/15/01 thanatos it would take one hug and two kisses from Famke to get me to watch this again. 2 stars
10/13/01 maggie i don't know why people are so down on this movie, i liked it a lot! 4 stars
10/13/01 Sam Moss BaD.... 2 stars
10/06/01 FriscoJohn Decent, not Awesome 4 stars
10/05/01 Amy Murphy shines, Douglas sinks 4 stars
10/05/01 poetchuck Better than I thought, 4 stars
10/03/01 wintermute Dude, they aren't child psychologists, of course they didn't kidnap her - otherwise why MD? 1 stars
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  28-Sep-2001 (R)



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