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New releases: She's no Clarice

By STEVE PERSALL, Times Film Critic

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 26, 2002


Murder by Numbers (R)

photo
[Photo: Warner Bros.]
Sandra Bullock, left, as homicide detective Cassie Mayweather, is cornered by Ryan Gosling, who plays Richard, a high school student suspected of murder in the film Murder by Numbers.

Privileged high school students named Richard and Justin (Ryan Gosling, Michael Pitt) stage a series of apparently perfect murders, challenging a homicide detective (Sandra Bullock) to catch them. Directed with his usual malevolent chill by Barbet Schroeder (Reversal of Fortune, Before and After).

First impressions: "Murder by Numbers consequently sags when the film shifts away from Richard and Justin. The police-procedural material is fairly bland, largely because we've all been here before: Cassie is tough, but, uh, vulnerable, terrific at what she does but a mess on the domestic front, with skeletons that refuse to remain in her closet.

"The flip side of this standard-issue television material is a focus on the method by which Richard and Justin carry out their malevolent plan; some of this might better have been left to the imagination. Schroeder instead attempts to make viewers feel complicit. It makes for a clumsy, less-than-satisfying mix of elements." (Philip Booth, St. Petersburg Times staff writer)

Second thoughts: Bullock is fine as Miss Congeniality but she's no Clarice Starling.

Rental audience: Bullock fans, morbid crime-watchers.

Rent it if you enjoy: Compulsion, In Cold Blood, Seven.

Stolen Summer (PG)

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[Photo: Miramax]
Mike Weinberg and Adi Stein star in Stolen Summer. The film by Pete Jones won first place in HBO’s Project Greenlight screenwriting contest.

Pete Jones won the inaugural Project Greenlight screenwriting contest, with the prize being a chance to direct it with Miramax money. The HBO television series based on the production schedule showed volatile artistic differences, so the sedate film that emerged is a bit of a surprise.

Adi Stein plays a second-grader named Pete O'Malley whose firefighter father (Aidan Quinn) rides herd over a boisterous Irish-Catholic family. When a nun convinces Pete he's heading for damnation, he naively decides to earn a ticket to heaven by converting Jews to Catholicism. Setting up a theological advice stand in front of a synagogue, Pete befriends a rabbi (Kevin Pollak) whose own family endures a major crisis.

First impressions: "Stolen Summer is a respectable piece of work, a sweetly nostalgic coming-of-age story. (Original ideas obviously weren't a contest priority.) The script seems like a writer's exercise, with too many heart-to-heart talks suitable for workshops but lumpy as a cinematic whole. However, a roster of convincing actors, especially young Stein in the central role, makes Stolen Summer a pleasant curiosity piece." (Steve Persall, Times film critic)

Second thoughts: Wonder if the runner-up project would be more daring?

Rental audience: HBO subscribers, Jones' relatives.

Rent it if you enjoy: Wide Awake, Sunday school lessons.

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