Murder By Numbers (15)

Review by Simon Bell

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: None yet available.

THIS lurid but very conventional murder mystery divides its time between two loaded high school seniors, passing the time committing an aimless crime and then trying to get away with it, and a hard-boiled investigator who pieces together the remnants of the supposed perfect murder.

Michael Pitt is Justin Pendleton, a troubled and unpopular teen who gulps absinthe, spouts Neitzche and declares "freedom is crime"! Ryan Gosling, his privileged partner in homicide Richard Haywood, is his driving force.

The two plan to perpetrate the consummate killing, choosing a random victim and placing the blame on porn-loving, pot-dealing baboon owner Chris Penn.

Together they're secure in the knowledge that they can outwit, outplay and outlast Detective Cassie Mayweather and her uncultivated partner, Sam Kennedy.

Meanwhile, the snoopstress has her own demons. Unable to forget a gruesome killing from the past, she dwells on a set of murder site prints each night before bedtime over a glass of bourbon and some unoffending Sheryl Crow.

Pitt (much better in Larry Clark's recent Bully) and especially Gosling follow up their memorable performances in their most recent films (Hedwig and the Angry Inch for Pitt and The Believer for Gosling, both of which won the top awards at Sundance), with a notable flourish.

The comparably very bland pairing of Ben Chaplin (boring, but with nothing to do anyway) and Sandra Bullock (dull, with plenty) leaves you in danger of switching off altogether.

Though always a welcome presence on screen, Cimmerian and tormented is not Bullock's bag. Think Miss Congeniality who's just broken a nail.

Barbet Schroeder's less commercial stuff - Reversal of Fortune (1990) and Barfly (1987) perhaps - has always been better than his attempts at mainstream, such as Single White Female (1992) and Desperate Measures (1998).

This time up, the macro-lens forensics, gruesome corpse close-ups, and counter-chic blue-screen finale all add to the vividness, but it never strays too far from the customary Hollywood mystery.

Not quite the crafty and original thriller it purports to be, it's more a TV style of film-making by numbers (and they don't add up).