If Michael Douglas were a football team, he would be the Minnesota Vikings. He’s a solid act with fairly decent performances, but hasn?t made a Super Bowl of a film in quite some time. “Wonder Boys,” although a great film, failed to garner the public praise it deserved, and the Oscar machine that was “Traffic” soared due to its ensemble cast and talented director.
In five of Douglas’ past eight films, he has perfected the role of the stressed-out, wealthy white guy — “A Perfect Murder” in ’98, “The Game” in ’97; even as far back as “Wall Street” in ’87 had Douglas wiping his sweating brow with a C-note.
In his latest, “Don’t Say A Word,” Douglas suits up again as the anxious and affluent psychiatrist Nathan Conrad, whose daughter is kidnapped and held for ransom by a band of middle-aged men who seem to more at home behind the wheel of a minivan than a jewel-and-daughter heist. But the kid is cute, so we worry.
To recover his daughter, he must get into the mind of troubled, catatonic-like teen Elisabeth Burrows (Brittany Murphy, “Girl, Interrupted”), find out what she knows about a missing ruby, and deliver the info to the soccer dads.
The men have Conrad’s apartment and wife (Famke Janssen, “X-Men”) under tight surveillance. As if the females in these types of movies weren’t helpless enough, Mrs. Conrad has a broken leg and is laid up in bed. Combined, these two features create a cheap yet suspenseful “Rear Window? quality.
On the other side of the Hudson, Detective Cassidy (Jennifer Esposito, “Summer of Sam”) is hot on the trail of something, but neither she nor the audience seems to know exactly what it is. She overcompensates for the injured wife, trash-talking among the floating bodies and morgue visits. She?s a hardass; we get it. However, her storyline provides the mystery counterpart to the kidnapping’s suspense. Hand in hand, they work well.
Although reminiscent of the 1996 Mel Gibson caper “Ransom,” “Don’t Say A Word” plays more like “Law and Order” for the big screen. The washed-out tint to the film and the plot’s original crime and clever method of solving it make for intriguing drama. It’s not edge-of-your-seat, but it’s definitely not leave-your-seat either.
The film’s different storylines race along quickly and smartly for a good two-thirds of the film. It would seem Douglas may be winning in this game. Also on his side of the line of scrimmage is the underrated Murphy, who has come a long, long way from the “Rolling With The Homies” makeover project of “Clueless.” Her cryptic, mesmerizing movements are creepy, and she haunts every scene, pushing this average film to the next level. Douglas, who can play a role like this in his sleep — and does in some moments of the film — wakes up during scenes opposite Murphy, making them the best in the film.
However, “Don’t Say A Word” still has some tough defense to overcome. Based on the title alone, moviegoers could expect anything from a cheesy teen horror to a documentary on Marcel Marceau. With help from the previews, the savvy viewer has to resort to calling it “that I’ll never tell” movie.
The aforementioned build-up is tight and suspenseful, leaving the viewer uncertain to the outcome. Unfortunately, it seems as if newbie screenwriter Anthony Peckham had that same problem. When the storylines finally merge, it is disappointing. Peckham exhaustes his intelligence in the first half of the film and resorts to a finale of nothing more than Douglas throwing punches in the dirt.
It’s a noble, yet familiar effort on the part of Douglas. In the end, “Don’t Say A Word” has him running to the ten but failing to score the extra touchdown. Maybe next year, kid.