When a congressman's daughter is kidnapped by a dangerous sociopath, the reluctant Alex Cross is called out of retirement to track them down.
A sequel to a cat and mouse, psychological thriller, you say? Based on one of the original author's other novels? And featuring the same male powerhouse and a new leading lady? There's an idea. May even make a few quid.
But while the Hannibal comparisons are perhaps unfair, considering in particular that this sequel/prequel to 1997's Kiss The Girls was mooted almost immediately after the original's moderate box office success, they're certainly worthy of note. Largely because while Ridley Scott arguably fell short in his attempts to match a near-perfect predecessor, this solid thriller - which, ironically, owes more to The Silence Of The Lambs than its own big brother - is a more polished package.
A furiously-paced, tautly-edited opening sequence (think a vehicular take on 1993's Cliffhanger) kicks off an absorbing first hour of kidnap, murder and intrigue, as the fastidious Soneji (Wincott, in typically sinister form) hatches a cunning plan so intricate it's been some two years in the making. Cue the tortured Alex Cross (Freeman), apparently the only psychological profiler equal to the "quite brilliant" criminal mastermind at work, and disgraced Secret Service agent Jezzie Flannigan (Potter), and a slick battle of wits ensues.
In terms of plotting, it's hardly breaking new ground, but spare a thought nonetheless for Morgan Freeman. Once again reprising his role of the aged sage - Seven, Shawshank etc. etc. - dispensing pearls of fortune cookie wisdom (Exhibit A: "You do what you are, not are what you do"), he retreads a beat now so well-worn that it borders on the weary. Monica Potter (Martha Meet Frank, Daniel & Laurence), however, adopts the sidekick mantle previously inhabited by Ashley Judd with enough style to erase painful memories of Patch Adams, and thus sets her campaign for leading lady status back on the straight and narrow, while Dylan Baker heads up a supporting cast that is uniformly above average.
The problem here, though, lies in a lazy final reel of forced plot revelations and a climactic re-shot gun fight which smacks of test screening interference - when will studios learn that what satisfies an audience of braying jocks may not necessarily translate to anyone with an IQ above 14? - and throws away approximately 90 minutes of gradually-built suspense.
That said, when Tamahori (Once Were Warriors, The Edge) is granted free rein, he does breathe fresh life into a tired genre, not only living up to, but trouncing, Kiss The Girls' Gary Fleder in terms of pacing as well as thrills. A shame, then, that the overriding impression is one of his hands being too often tied.
An entertaining blend of classic thriller staples which, were it not for some idle plot resolutions, could have been Premiership class. As it is, the result is more top half of the First Division.