"Along Came A Spider" works. It may suffer from one plot twist too many, it may borrow liberally from other pictures, it may have narrative holes you could run a horse race through, but in spite of all that, it WORKS. And as everyone knows, that is about the highest compliment a film like this can be paid.
Directed by Lee Tamahori, "Along Came a Spider" hits the ground running with a bravura sequence in which a federal sting goes horribly wrong and a good agent dies. Det. Alex Cross (Morgan Freeman), the leader of the sting, goes into brooding isolation, but a year later, the daughter of a U.S. congressman (Michael Moriarty) is kidnapped from her prestigious Washington boarding school by a brilliant madman, and Cross, a mental wizard with the ability to see into the mind of the maddest psychopath, is the only one who can track the criminal's M.O. and save the girl.
Standard thriller territory, and it's given more or less standard treatment, albeit with a fair share of stylistic spark and energy. Tamahori does a good job choreographing his action set pieces, particularly that shattering opening and a nifty cat-and-mouse chase that closes out the picture. Cinematographer Matthew F. Leonetti gives the film a dark, brooding visual richness, and Jerry Goldsmith contributes another thunderously effective thriller score.
The acting is also generally strong across the board. Morgan Freeman.. what can one say? I honestly cannot think of another modern actor who has done such consistently high-quality work. Granted, Cross does not seem like a role that would overly tax a top-notch thespian like Freeman, but he doesn't sell it short either, giving the character his full, commanding force. He is the tough, solid center that really elevates "Along Came A Spider" above pulp territory. Michael Wincott plays the psycho (as naturally he would; what else is Michael Wincott going to play in a film?), and gives it his gravelly-voiced best, making us hate this guy just as much as we should. Monica Potter is fine as the young security officer helping Cross track the fiend, but I was constantly distracted by the fact that her voice sounds EXACTLY LIKE JULIA ROBERTS! I swear, it sounded like she'd been dubbed. Am I the only one who noticed this? Probably, so I'll drop it.
If there's any real complaint to be had with "Along Came A Spider" (aside from my weird personal difficulties with Monica Potter's voice), it is an age-old one for a thriller: script problems. Screenwriter Marc Moss keeps things moving nicely, and there are some clever moments throughout, but the film also raises unanswered questions. What was the purpose of the weird Lindbergh website the kidnapper sets up? When will they learn that internet-related plot devices just don't work in films? What was the point of the Russian kid who seems to play such a big role in the middle portion of the picture? Why did Moss feel the need to crib his most exciting sequence, a footchase with the maniac leading Cross through Washington via cell phone, from "Dirty Harry"? Granted, I haven't read the novel by James Patterson upon which this film was based, so I may not be casting blame in the right place. But Patterson didn't write this script, so maybe I am.
As I mentioned before, however, all of this largely doesn't matter. In the moment, while it's unfurling in front of you, the film's fast pace, engaging performances, and visual polish keep you intrigued, and allow you to overlook the plot's more outrageous contrivances and awkward reversals. "Along Came A Spider" is not a perfect thriller, but brother..it WORKS.