In "Murder by Numbers," Sandra Bullock tries to reinvent her acting career by taking on the role of a hard-drinking, tough-talking, somewhat masculine and definitely haunted homicide detective.
As much as most of us want Bullock to succeed in that endeavor, it should come as no surprise that her character is a superficial cutout, and her performance is completely unconvincing.
What may come as a real surprise, however, is that her uncompelling lead performance is only the first of numerous problems with this police procedural thriller. Among the more serious being the movie's clunky story structure, its reliance on clich√Ø¬ø¬Ωd characterizations and an almost complete lack of suspense.
In fact, about the only thing that really does work here is the film's neglected storyline about murderous teens obviously inspired by real-life killers Leopold and Loeb, which could have served as the solitary focus for a more effective thriller.
The teens here are popular high school senior Richard Haywood (Ryan Gosling) and his less popular but more cerebral fellow student Justin Pendleton (Michael Pitt). Together, they plan and commit the "perfect murder," one that entails deliberately leaving clues to implicate someone else.
Truth be told, the two have done such a good job of covering their tracks that an investigator should have little reason to suspect them. However, the assigned detective, Cassie Mayweather (Bullock), senses that there's something too easy, and rather fishy, about the case.
So she and her new partner (Ben Chaplin) begin trailing the teens and looking into their respective backgrounds. But that just gives the boys a reason to begin another "game," one that involves Cassie.
Though the film was directed by veteran Barbet Schroeder, it shows few traces of his best work ("Reversal of Fortune"). Instead, the pacing is painfully slow and few scenes have real impact.
Much of the film also rests on Bullock's shoulders, and she's unable to carry the load. It doesn't help that she's paired with the dull Chaplin, who seems to be sleepwalking through the entire affair.
If the film does have a saving grace, it's the pairing of up-and-coming actors Gosling and Pitt, who make their scenes watchable to the point that you almost want their characters to get away with the crime.
"Murder by Numbers" is rated R for violence (shootings, stabbings and beatings, including some violence against women), occasional use of strong sexual profanity, simulated sex, gore, some crude sexual banter, drug content (including use of a hallucinogenic) and glimpses of nude artwork. Running time: 120 minutes.