After Detective Hobbes witnesses the death of a notorious killer, all seems right with the world - until new victims, killed in the dead man's distinctive style, start to show up, and the signs point to previously innocent people linked only by a casual touch.
Gregory Hoblit's debut outing, Primal Fear, may rank among the more average thrillers of recent years, but it was just that silliness which made it so cheerfully entertaining. His sophomore effort, on the other hand, promises much, but eventually proves just too portentous and self-consciously weird to deliver.
Washington is Detective John Hobbes, who at the outset gets to witness Edgar Reese (Elias Koteas), a murderer he nailed, have a fatal interface with the gas chamber. Minutes later, though, it becomes apparent that Reese's spirit - or at least, that's what it appears to be - has lived on, passing itself from person to person via the slightest touch, and enabling him to commit murderous mayhem across the city once again, leaving only victims in the bath and half-eaten bowls of cornflakes (um, cereal killer, anyone?) as clues to his identity.
Hobbes, however, is the spirit's ultimate target, thus sparking off a supernatural mystery that even the most qualified members of the force would have difficulty unravelling, never mind the audience. The concept of a demonic game of tag boasts great potential (even if it does bear staggering resemblance to the plot of Lou Diamond Phillips' 1990 shocker The First Power), and does offer some genuinely creepy moments of suspense with its gloomy lighting and constantly scraping violins, while Washington is as watchable as ever.
But Hoblit, seemingly undecided about the type of movie he wants to make, mixes theological stupidity in with fluctuating film stocks and skewed camera angles, wastes the supporting cast totally (especially Davidtz), chucks in an unnecessary, irritating noir voiceover, and spreads the whole thing painfully slowly over an exorbitant running time. Somewhere in here, a cracking 90 minute horror-thriller is struggling to get out but amid the mire of confusing, messy goings-on, it gets lost completely.
An arch mix of police procedural and supernatural chiller, this is bleak, edgy, sometimes silly stuff.