Rating: PG-13 for drug use, language, adult themes
Run Time: 1 hour, 39 minutes
Is Benjamin Bratt more than just a pretty face (and Julia Roberts’ high-profile ex-squeeze?) Can seasoned WB regular Katie Holmes carry her weight at the big screen box office? These are the burning questions behind this college cum detective thriller that has Guilty Pleasure written all over it.
Unfortunately, it’s a set-up. “Traffic” scribe Stephen Gaghan should know better than to infuse his directing debut with thriller clichés and a dismal whodunit conclusion. Holmes delivers a sweet, genuine performance as Katie Burke, a college senior who’s having trouble completing her thesis (and sleeping, eating, or socializing). When the academic pressure reaches the boiling point, an old Missing Persons case is unexpectedly reopened, starring (ta-da!) Katie’s former lover, Embry Langan (Charlie Hunnam).
In addition to being a genius, the exceedingly theatrical Embry was a bit of a louse. But his abrupt disappearance (two years earlier) caused Katie no end of hurt. Enter recovering alcoholic/bad boy Detective Wade Handler (Bratt), whose interest in the case blurs the line between the professional and the personal. When Embry puts in a surprise appearance, there’s hell to pay on all fronts.
Gaghan’s script is smarter than most; the first three-quarters of an hour is peppered with sharp, snappy dialogue. Sidekick girlfriend Julie (Zooey Deschanel) gets to deliver the bulk of the good stuff – comic relief ad nauseam. Embry, the son of privilege, is too perfectly hip and tousled to work on any compelling level, but Bratt manages to display some talent while flashing chiseled cheekbones and chocolate brown eyes.
Gaghan’s direction is choppy at best – perhaps he should limit himself to the written word. The second act dissolves into conventional psychological pabulum. Effective scares include the classic alone-in-the-stacks-at-night scenario, but they’re lost in a second-rate showcase climax.