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Thursday, March 18, 2004 01:30 pm

Movie Review

Taking Lives

Take this movie. Away. Please.

Having to sit through the new thriller Taking Lives made me want to take my own. A convoluted mish-mash, this latest entry in the overcrowded "serial killer on the loose" genre is crippled by countless clichés, a bevy of bad performances, and a script that relies on coincidence far too often.

Angelina Jolie plays Illeana Scott, an FBI profiler who is so good at her job, you'd think she had psychic abilities. And just why in the world is she in a grave when we first meet her? Nothing is made clear by director D.J. Caruso and screenwriter Jon Bokenkamp -- and Jolie doesn't help matters with reactions that run the gamut from giddy to despondent, none of them convincing.

Apparently FBI agent Scott never goes to the movies. Otherwise, she would already recognize the roster of stereotypical characters and situations she encounters. Take, for example, one particularly brutal killer who sizes up his victims, kills them, assumes their identities, and then lives their lives until he gets bored and kills again. He has to be a master at make-up and be pretty handy at fashioning oral prosthetics and other appearance-altering gizmos, skills we're simply suppose to assume he was born with and has the means to execute. But why quibble about one stereotype when there are so many? There's the tough cop who resents outsiders. The cop's partner who, of course, gets killed. And the prime suspect who, drumroll please, may just be an innocent bystander. Compounding things are the inane actions undertaken by the characters, as well as action scenes that have no meaningful relationship to the plot.

Films like Taking Lives, which treat audiences as though they're morons, simply ask to be eviscerated.

What other critics are saying. . .

Agent Cody Banks 2: Destination London [PG] Frankie Muniz is secret agent Cody Banks on his second adventure. "Agent Cody Banks 2 may have a difficult time appealing to young girls without Hilary Duff on board." (Ed Gonzalez, Slant magazine) ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Barbershop 2: Back in Business [PG-13] Spend another day with the crew at Calvin's [Ice Cube] barbershop on Chicago's South Side. "Cube is still adorable, but the potentially poppin' battle between the shop and big-box competitor Nappy Cuts gets obscured by sloppy chronology and flat, cartoonish politicos." (Laura Sinagra, Village Voice) White Oaks

Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen [PG] Lola's family moves from New York City to the burbs in New Jersey. Lola sets her sights on winning the lead in a school play while fantasizing about her favorite rock group. When she gets word the group's disbanding, she pulls out all the stops to make their farewell concert. Not reviewed. Parkway Pointe

The Cuckoo [PG-13] An antiwar fable set in September 1944. A Lapp widow, who is a reindeer farmer, takes in a Finnish sniper and an injured Russian, touching off a three-way comedic drama of desire and distrust, further fueled by the three characters' inability to understand one another. Russian film, in Russian, Finnish and Saami with subtitles. Tickets: $7; $1.50 (students with ID) "A winning piece of folk art from an isolated way of life, worth a look for those who want to see the world in all its quirky and earthy forms." (Michael Booth, Denver Post) White Oaks

Dawn of the Dead [R] Flesh-eating zombies are after a nurse (Sarah Polley), a cop (Ving Rhames), and a few others who are holed up in a shopping mall. "While I'll definitely always prefer the original, the remake has earned its place in the dead series." (Joshua Tyler, ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind [R] After Joel (Jim Carrey) learns that his girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) has the memories of their relationship erased, he decides to do the same. Though his memories gradually fade, he starts to remember how they first fell in love, and now he can't get her out of his mind. "A remarkable film that can coax a smile about making the same mistakes in love and then sneak up and quietly break your heart." (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone) Parkway Pointe Art

50 First Dates [PG-13] Veterinarian Henry Roth (Adam Sandler) enjoys dating women on vacation, but leaves his playboy life after he meets Lucy (Drew Barrymore). Alas, Lucy suffers from short-term memory loss, forcing Henry to woo her every day. ShowPlace West

Hidalgo [PG-13] The story of a Pony Express courier (Viggo Mortensen) who travels to Saudi Arabia to compete with his horse, Hidalgo, in a dangerous race for a massive contest prize. "Nothing kills my Viggo jones like a bad western set in the Arabian Desert." (Jeanne Aufmuth, Palo Alto Weekly) ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King [PG-13] Final part of trilogy, as hobbits Frodo and Sam journey to Mount Doom in Mordor. "As a model for how to bring substance, authenticity and insight to the biggest of adventure yarns, this trilogy will not soon, if ever, find its equal." (Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times) ShowPlace West

Miracle [PG] The story of the U.S. hockey team that beat the favored Soviet team in the 1980 Winter Olympics, then went on to win the gold. "An effective exercise in flag-waving nostalgia." (Mark Caro, Chicago Tribune) ShowPlace West

The Passion of the Christ [R] Mel Gibson's version of the last 12 hours of Jesus Christ's life. "The sacrifice Gibson's Jesus makes is purely physical. The violence to which he is subjected is portrayed to the point of being gratuitous and manipulative." (Chuck Koplinski, Illinois Times)ShowPlace East, Parkway Pointe

Secret Window [PG-13] A recently-divorced writer (Johnny Depp) is stalked by a man who claims he stole his idea. "Johnny Depp is hotter than ever, so scheduling a movie like this to open so soon after the Academy Awards is a very clever move on Columbia's part." (Ed Gonzalez, Slant magazine) ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Spartan [R] Two detectives (Val Kilmer, William H. Macy) must rescue the president's kidnapped daughter, but as the case gets complicated, they uncover another crime with roots in the White House. "A white slavery ring? Yippie! David Mamet tackles another hot-button issue." (Ed Gonzalez, Slant magazine) Parkway Pointe

Starsky & Hutch [PG-13]Two streetwise cops (Ben Stiller and Owens Wilson) bust criminals in their red-and-white Ford Torino with the help of police snitch called Huggy Bear (Snoop Dogg). Based on the '70s TV series. "Finally, the out-of-the-closet Starsky and Hutch!" (Victoria Alexander, ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Taking Lives [R] An FBI profiler (Angelina Jolie) is called in by French Canadian police to catch a serial killer who takes on the identity of each new victim. "Director D.J. Caruso (The Salton Sea) shows promise. But when's the last time Jolie starred in a really good movie?" (Susannah Gora, Premiere magazine) ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Touching the Void [NR] The true story of two climbers and their perilous journey up the west face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985. "The photography is awesome, inspiring many 'How did they get that shot?' moments." (Jami Bernard, New York Daily News) Parkway Pointe Art

Twisted [R] Jessica (Ashley Judd) portrays a police detective who finds herself at the center of an investigation after all her past lovers start dying off. To add to the drama, Jessica's dad was a serial killer. "Characters get distorted and motivations warped in this police thriller in order to keep bodies piling up and clues pointing in all directions." (Kirk Honeycutt, Hollywood Reporter) ShowPlace West