'Taking Lives" is a little better than "Twisted," which means the serial-killer genre has picked up since three weeks ago. Not that "Taking Lives" is very good, or that either film measures up to "The Silence of the Lambs," still the all-time classic of this nasty field.
Once again the plot is unabashedly bogus, and once again I guessed the villain's identity long before the end.
Angelina Jolie gives a marginally better performance in "Taking Lives" than Ashley Judd managed in "Twisted," though, and she far outdoes her inexplicably Oscar-winning turn in "Girl, Interrupted" a few years ago. Other assets include the movie's picturesque Montreal background and Philip Glass music that (like his score for the current "Secret Window") sounds less like his once-radical minimalism than like the throbbing, obsessive sounds that have spooked up traditional horror films for decades.
Jolie plays Illeana, an FBI agent - there's always a cute female cop in these pictures - on the trail of a Montreal psychopath who literally takes lives. After murdering each victim, he takes on the dead man's identity, inhabiting the daily life of the deceased until he gets the urge to kill and change his "character" again. Pinning down a chameleon like this is no easy job, as Illeana and her male partners discover.
It's surprising that such a warmed-over story has attracted such a high- powered cast. In addition to Jolie there are Ethan Hawke as an art dealer used as bait by the police, Olivier Martinez and Tchéky Karyo as the heroine's Canadian sidekicks, the great Gena Rowlands as the murderer's fussy mom, and Kiefer Sutherland as a mysterious figure who edges into the tale halfway through.
They all do as well as they can with screenwriter Jon Bokenkamp's droopy dialogue, and director D.J. Caruso keeps the action moving at a lively clip. A tip of the hat also goes to Amir Mokri's camera work, which makes the most of diversified Montreal locations.
Still, no amount of technical skill can substitute for genuine shivers, and in the fright department this picture rarely lives up to its hype. "Taking Lives" serves up one letdown after another - a serial disappointment if ever there was one.
• Rated R; contains sex, nudity, and violence.