Though not officially billed as a sequel, "Along Came a Spider" (IMDb listing) continues the adventures of Dr. Alex Cross, a forensic psychologist we first met in the thriller "Kiss the Girls." The hero of the James Patterson book series, Cross returns to duty in "Spider" after a long absence. While passable and sometimes engaging, "Along Came a Spider" just isn't up to par with its predecessor "Kiss the Girls." Those aren't exactly big shoes to fill with the critically lambasted "Girls", yet "Spider" is a dry affair with little that stands out about it.
Dr. Cross, who lost his partner in a botched undercover sting, is brought back into duty when a deranged private school teacher kidnaps the daughter of a senator. Pairing up with one of the agents ("Patch Adam's" Monica Potter) assigned to protect the little girl, Cross must uncover the clues to why this little girl amongst so many rich and powerful children was taken.
I was actually a big fan of "Kiss the Girls." I found it to be a twisty, fun thriller that filled a niche untapped in the fall of 1997. Morgan Freeman was a commanding presence and filled the role of Dr. Cross with authority and confidence that only Freeman can bring to a character. "Girls" also had Ashley Judd along for the ride. The vivid actress matched Freeman well and she held up the sympathetic end of the story perfectly.
Watching "Along Came a Spider," it's right from the very beginning that you can sense the vital Judd spark is missing. The opening, featuring a bizarrely staged undercover operation, is so crudely handled and photographed that you can't help but get that sinking feeling that lightning is not going to strike twice. "Spider" is as equally complex a narrative as "Girls," but not as severely twisted. More of a throwaway audience pleasing thriller than a true nail-biter.
Morgan Freeman returns to his franchise role with all the excitement of a dead body. A class act throughout, Freeman's glum, elegant take on Cross could just as easily be read as boredom. This leaves the talented Monica Potter to hold up the other end of the acting spectrum. Sadly, "Spider" fails Potter as much as Potter fails the movie. She's miscast in the role of the troubled special agent. Her natural allure is lost amongst the red herrings and shootouts. Potter and Freeman don't make an enthralling team, and they leave "Along Came a Spider" rather inert and conventional.
New Zealand director Lee Tamahori who hasn't had much success in the Hollywood game with his "Mulholland Falls" and "The Edge" plays all his cards very predictably. "Spider" feels hollow and manufactured. It lacks the zest and morbid appeal that helmer Gary Fleder brought to "Kiss the Girls." As a straight-up adaptation of the James Patterson novel, "Spider" is passable entertainment, with nothing more to offer than some anticipated twists and the safe and easy ending that usually accompanies films of this thread count. Tamahori doesn't think outside of the box. His reliance on the clichés of the genre is disappointing, and his directing (especially the aforementioned opening) leaves a lot to be desired.
"Along Came a Spider" is full of bad decisions, but nothing stands out quite like a mid-movie sequence that finds Dr. Cross in a game to get a ransom demand to a suspect. Through an elaborate game which has the good doctor running throughout the city from phone booth to phone booth, the killer makes calls to make sure Cross isn't dawdling. If the sequence sounds familiar, it is. "Die Hard With a Vengeance" featured the exact same episode of "Simon Says." The novel of "Spider" was actually published before "Die Hard 3" went into production, but one would hope the filmmakers would've recognized the similarities and tried something fresh. They don't, and it leaves the already tired "Spider" with the taste of stale leftovers.
Filmfodder Grade: C