Zodiac Killer
Cinema Signal:

Knights of the Zodiac, Vol. 7:
Battle of the Ages

. "The Zodiac"

Has there ever been a serial killer case that has attracted more movie attention than that of the Zodiac Killer? In 2004 alone, the year of this one's production, there were three movies using the term in its title, this being one. The others include "The Zodiac Killer," starring David Hess, and "Knights of the Zodiac - Vol.8." Hmmm... I like "Nights of the Zodiac" (if it hasn't already been taken).

And, then there's "Zodiac", the one that's likely to sweep them all under the Hollywood rug. It's coming out this year (2006) and stars Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal. See what I mean? More on that when the release date approaches.

In writer-director Alexander Bulkley's apparently stricter and sleepier version of the case, (co-written with brother Kelley) nothing more gets resolved than did in reality. We have, however, the characters who get involved in it to revolve the story around, namely, the Parish family. Sergeant Matt Parish (Justin Chambers) of the Vallejo, California PD is assigned by Chief Frank Perkins (Philip Baker Hall) to investigate a double murder at a desolate lover's lane.

The small town is horrified and the pressure to solve the crime is exacerbated when a pushy reporter who corners Parish with incendiary questions and provocative demands, sensationalizes the story in the papers and spreads fear in the community. But leads are thin to non-existent, the killer knowing exactly how to leave no clues behind.

Sergeant Parish proves to be no crime-solving genius or law-enforcement whiz-kid. If you think the chief is displeased, you should see how Parish's wife Laura (Robin Tunney) and 12-year old boy, Johnny (Rory Culkin), are showing embarrassment and displeasure. Especially when the reporter turns Parish into a poster boy for ineptitude. And, that's before the killer strikes again, six months later.

The problem with this piece of exploitative subject matter is not that the movie moves glacially (nothing but the discovery and the assignment in the first 30 minutes) but the lingering wonderment why anyone would grind out another version of a case with the principals we're supposed to get involved with hung out to dry with no particular qualities of identification, no last act, life-affirming change, insight, or redemption for their efforts, no resolution. Pfftt, it's gone.

The answer to that question comes, we think, with the mere opportunity to put the word, "Zodiac" on the marquee. Do I hear the "cajung!, cajung!" that the producers were depending on at the cash register? Maybe, but very much of it is doubtful. This is an early-to-DVD release in the crystal bin if there ever was one.

Justin Chambers struggles for a connective tie to the audience in order to justify the worn-out subject, but this script isn't the vehicle to get him anywhere. While it's samo, samo to see Philip Baker Hall in yet another dependable portrayal (5 other films in 2005), it's nice to catch much less-seen Robin Tunney (2) on the big screen again. Guess which one is the fresher.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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