By EW Staff
Updated November 05, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST
Angelina Jolie, Denzel Washington, ...

The wily serial killer who leaves fetishistic clues is a regular player in murder mysteries. But a bloodthirsty audience turned on by ”The Silence of the Lambs” and aroused by ”Seven” has encouraged moviemakers to dream up even more baroquely gruesome calling cards; sadism has become its own mainstream art form. In The Bone Collector, a skeleton-thin thriller wrapped in glamorous production values, the murderer creatively terrorizes his victims before offing them, then removes an osteological souvenir — a bit of arm or thigh or finger — as his trademark.

This is a sicko proud of his craftsmanship, operating in the dark tunnels and alleys of a menacing New York City (how ’70s!). Unfortunately — ironically — the one detective who can make the cleverest sense of the puzzle can’t move his own bones: Lincoln Rhymes (Denzel Washington), paralyzed in an accident from the neck down (except for a right index finger that can click a computer button) and prone to seizures that threaten to short-circuit his brain, lies inert, planning his own suicide. Still, he’s intrigued enough by the case to oversee it from his bed — and intrigued, too, by the forensic aptitude and attractive bad-girl attitude of Amelia Donaghy (Angelina Jolie), a tetchy cop with an exceptional eye for evidence gathering. And just exceptional eyes, period.

Director Phillip Noyce, who made the sharply creepy thriller ”Dead Calm” — thereby launching Nicole Kidman’s career — before specializing in the creepy paranoia of Tom Clancy movies, seems to know that Washington is capable of stirring intensity when inspired and distancing containment when not — and pulls from him a lively, engaged performance. Indeed, without moving a limb, the actor conveys such a full-blooded conviction about this very average mystery that he carries along everyone he works with — even buffeting the wilder, less-focused theatrical mood swings of costar Jolie, somewhat panicky in her first big-picture star vehicle — and helps give the under-established character of Donaghy an approximation of personality. This actorly passion may not breathe life into an exhausted genre movie, but it gives ”The Bone Collector” some unexpected spine.

The Bone Collector

  • Movie
  • R
  • 118 minutes
  • Phillip Noyce