Of the few twists in Don't Say A Word, an alternately routine and hysterical thriller starring Michael Douglas, the most surprising is that it was conceived as a novel first and a 30-second TV spot later; all signs point to the contrary. A classic bait-and-switch, the film has just enough hook in its high-concept premise to lure audiences into theaters, but lacks the conviction to follow through on its own basic ridiculousness. The setup is a doozy: After his young daughter is kidnapped, Douglas, a gifted New York psychiatrist, has about seven hours to pry a six-digit number out of a near-catatonic patient (Brittany Murphy), whose information will lead his child's abductors to a stolen diamond. Though classified as a psychological thriller, Don't Say A Word operates more like a heist movie, only in this case, the master thief has to break into a young woman's seemingly impenetrable head. Murphy is introduced with more hype than the Overlook in The Shining. In and out of psychiatric hospitals since childhood, she was detained for murdering a man so savagely it took five others to pull her off him, but she also suffers from a list of pathologies as long as a Russian novel—including the ability to mimic pathologies she doesn't have. As Douglas busies himself with Murphy, the high-tech kidnappers (led by Sean Bean) torment his wife, Famke Janssen, who's laid up in bed with a leg cast like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window. Meanwhile, the superfluous Jennifer Esposito, a tough police detective defined mostly by her leather jacket ("I'm sexy, but I mean business," it seems to say), pursues the case from another angle, always a full step behind the action. The sessions between Douglas and Murphy are meant to capture something like the tension between Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster in The Silence Of The Lambs, a film director Gary Fleder knocked off even more directly in his 1997 hit Kiss The Girls. Yet for all the advance billing, Murphy's mind is less a fortress than a gym locker, easy to rip open with a little persistence and a few lessons gleaned from daytime talk shows. Fleder and his screenwriting team cop out by making Douglas more sympathetic than he should be, never considering that his mad quest for the six-digit number may be more exploitative than therapeutic. Not that it matters anyway, because the little details of character, psychology, and common sense are thrown out the window in the third act, when gratuitous violence and by-the-numbers suspense take over. Don't Say A Word makes reference to a festival of classic thrillers—the aforementioned Rear Window and Silence Of The Lambs, as well as The 39 Steps and The Night Of The Hunter—but it hasn't learned a thing from them.
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