Spiral: From the Book of Saw (hereafter simply referred to as “Spiral”) is directed by Darren Lynn Bousman. The film stars Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson, Marisol Nichols, and Max Minghella.
Detective Zeke Banks is the son of a retired and esteemed police offer, teaming up with a rookie partner to take on a case when police officers begin being killed as part of the “games” of a sadistic killer eerily reminiscent of the Jigsaw Killer of the past. Who is the killer, and what is their motive?
When I first heard about this movie and knowing what series it was going to be a part of, I was a bit surprised by the inclusion of Chris Rock as the star, as rock is largely known for raunchy comedy and not more dramatic/suspenseful roles. Spiral has potential, and Rock rises above preconceived notions in the film, managing to play a surprisingly strong role that juggles gritty dramatic elements with the expected comedic moments, being a surprise stand out here. Unfortunately, the film’s narrative structure is sloppy and it can’t quite decide what kind of a movie it wants to be, coupled with a frustratingly abrupt (and unsatisfying) ending.
While I way have mixed feelings on the film at large, I won’t deny the quality of Chris Rock’s performance. For years I’ve seen this guy give some of the most hilarious comedy specials and film roles that there are. What’s amazing about his performance is how he hits the high notes in the more dramatic and gripping moments of the film. From delivering a monologue on how lovable and kind a person Forrest Gump is to struggling with his relationship with his estranged police chief father, every scene with Rock in it makes the movie worthwhile. You’ll wish the movie focused more on his character than the killings and torture.
The rest of the movie doesn’t fare as well. It can’t decide if it wants to go the torture porn route or stand as a statement against police corruption. Characters die and are largely forgotten (the first casualty is properly mourned, but after that the remaining deaths feel more like statistics). Because the film compromises on these visions, it never quite succeeds in either category. Even a strong supporting cast quite save the day.
I would have loved to get a cop drama starring Chris Rock dealing with his efforts to battle police corruption or a Saw series spin-off, but the end product here is just an uneven compromise of the two, and never quite lives up to its potential. It’ll make a decent weekend rental when it eventually hits home video formats. You don’t need to rush to the theater, although Rock’s performance is an undeniable highlight.
Rating: Two stars out of four.
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