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Movie Review

FBI agent Thomas Mackelway has been demoted to the minor leagues—transferred to Albuquerque from Dallas—after blowing a case that allowed a serial killer to walk free. No sooner does he arrive in New Mexico than he is called to investigate a murder where the victim’s car rests exactly on the Arizona-New Mexico border, which makes it a federal case that requires the services of the FBI. Mackelway is intrigued by the bizarre clues the killer left behind.

While immersed in that case, yet another murder requires the Albuquerque FBI office. Lo and behold, who comes along to help Mackelway with the case? His old flame from the Dallas office, Fran Kulok. While piecing together the pattern of an apparent serial killer—all the victims have had their eyelids cut off and a zero gouged into their flesh—Mackelway comes to a startling conclusion: All the victims were themselves serial killers, including the one who walked because of his mistake in Dallas. As he gets deeper into the case, Mackelway realizes that the killer is leaving clues meant specifically for him.


Positive Elements

One of the crime hunters is driven by a passion to see justice done. Despite his demotion, Agent Mackelway still gives his all to the job, often staying in the office late into the night trying to sift clues and get into the mind of the serial killer.

Spiritual Content

The serial killer has psychic abilities that allow him to see other serial killers' moves in advance. [Spoiler Warning] Mackelway has the same abilities, although in latent form, which is why the suspected serial killer has singled him out.

A scene in a halfway house features crucifixes on several walls as well as images from Bible stories. A sympathy card to a widow states, “God works in mysterious ways.” An exuberant church service features worshippers singing hymns and exclaiming, “Thank you, Jesus” and “Yes, Lord.”

A killer has a Bible in his room, but a zero has been gouged into its leather cover, and some of the inside pages have been defaced with crude, tortured drawings of people in pain. A killer taunts his victim, “People always pray in this situation, but there are not too many answers.” The lead suspect says his psychic “gift” makes him God-like, but it’s a gift he doesn’t want.

Sexual Content

Throughout the movie we see wild charcoal drawings of nude bodies, all of them murder victims. A rape scene includes a brief flash of breast nudity, and the rapist is seen making sexual motions on top of the woman. A few flashback sequences show a predator luring young girls into danger. A killer tells a victim that his previous victims have offered him all manner of sexual perversions for “just five minutes more on this planet.”

Mackelway and Kulok apparently have a passionate past. As she comforts him with a hug after a frustrating turn in the case, she seems to want to go further, but he is preoccupied with the crime. The camera tracks a young woman, first following her posterior and then focusing on her tube-top covered breasts. An obese woman dances in a bikini.

Violent Content

The rape, already mentioned, should also be classified as violent. All of the murder victims have had their bodies mutilated, with eyelids cut off and deep gouges cut into their flesh. We also see several bloody crime scene photos. In a dream sequence, a man is executed by a shot to the head; the camera cuts away at the moment the shot sounds.

Two men kick and punch each other until one bashes in the other’s head with a rock. A man holds a pistol to a police officer’s head. A man commits “suicide by cop” by threatening to kill Mackelway, forcing another agent to shoot him. Agents take down various predators and killers, pulling guns and knocking them around. The killers fight back, violently.

Crude or Profane Language

About 10 uses of the f-word, once in a sexual context, and two or three s-words. Also in the script: a few milder profanities and abuses of God's and Christ’s names.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Mackelway pops aspirin as if they were gumdrops. A scene in a tavern features people drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. A woman orders a mixed drink at the bar, but the bartender won’t serve it until he sees her ID.

Other Negative Elements

A man vomits into a toilet. An FBI agent lies to a woman and then sneaks into her house when she is away.


Ever since the box office success of Silence of the Lambs and Seven, lots of directors have tried to pull off the stylishly photographed crime thriller. E. Elias Merhige tries so hard he falls down. The result is little more than a cliché factory. (How many times have you seen the police brass badmouth the only cop who’s capable of solving the crime? And how many more times do we have to see the light bulb in the creepy room fail before we retire that hoary chestnut forever?) Likewise, Ben Kingsley chews up the scenery, and Merhige apparently has mistaken interesting camera angles and beautiful New Mexico sunsets for good storytelling.

More disappointing, though, Suspect Zero doesn't explore the deeper conundrum that the FBI should have wrestled with: Just how hard do you hunt a serial killer who specializes in killing other serial killers? I waited throughout the movie for this discussion to come up, but I waited in vain. Instead, all I saw was a fairly ordinary—but most certainly R-rated with its repeated images of sexual crimes and killings—cop procedural. At least Merhige chose the right number for the title.

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