We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Ah, formula: Following one may be a smart way to carry out the perfect crime, but it’s perhaps not the ideal method to ensure that your thriller will be thrilling. Murder by Numbers, which could be subtitled This Time, It’s Personal, has little in the way of surprises and even less excitement. But it does offer Sandra Bullock getting attacked by a screeching red-assed monkey, which is jolly good fun. Bullock meets baboon as Cassie Mayweather, a less humorous reproduction of her tough-gal detective in Miss Congeniality. Cassie and her partner-in-training, Sam (Ben Chaplin), are investigating a murder that we know was committed by two smart-aleck high school kids who, apparently out of sheer boredom, became fixated on executing an insolvable crime. (What, there are no malls where they live?) Although the murderers—Ryan Gosling as the creepily cool Richard and Michael Pitt as the cartoonishly glum Justin—are full of bombastic utterings (the movie opens with each holding a gun to his head and reciting “one cannot live fully without embracing suicide and crime”), chances are you’ll be siding with them in this we-already-know-who-dunit. Chaplin gives a staid performance, never allowing Sam’s facial expression to change even as he is increasingly emasculated by Cassie’s harpy self-assurance; indeed, he seems to exist solely to show how brilliant and wonderful she is, as he not only wrongly solves the crime but also correctly uncovers her double-secret vulnerability (you know, the kind that all hard-working detectives have). And though Bullock does well enough with each femme sarcastique role thrown at her, the mystery here should rightly be the murder, not why Cassie is so hellbent on solving it. Despite its pretensions to depth, Murder by Numbers is expectedly by the book. —Tricia Olszewski