Five signs that your mysterious new tenant might be a serial killer: 1. He pays three months' rent in cash up front and doesn't require you to provide references. 2. He requests that he have the only key to the guesthouse, because privacy is very important to him. 3. He removes all the portraits from the walls because they're "following [him] with their eyes." 4. He sneaks into your house in the middle of the night to look for a pair of scissors. 5. He tries to dry his trousers by firing up a charcoal grill. Of course, in the world of an egregiously stupid whodunit like David Ondaatje's The Lodger, these are also five signs that he might be a red herring. Either way, this thriller, adapted from the same Marie Belloc Lowndes novel that provided the source material for Alfred Hitchcock's 1927 silent classic, keeps the arbitrary twists and turns coming.
Alfred Molina leads an overqualified cast as an ethically shady police investigator looking into a rash of Sunset Strip serial killings modeled after the Jack The Ripper murders. Meanwhile, dissatisfied housewife Hope Davis welcomes handsome stranger Simon Baker into her quiet guesthouse rental space, and his eccentric behavior makes him a prime suspect. Philip Baker Hall, Donal Logue, Rebecca Pidgeon, and Rachael Leigh Cook make minor contributions on the sidelines, but they're reduced to bit players in a really bad CBS procedural. Writer-director Ondaatje (nephew of English Patient scribe Michael) makes a few nods to Hitchcock—Pidgeon, for her part, virtually reenacts the only bum scene in Psycho—but mostly the updating is restricted to the lurid, graphic nature of the killings. It takes guts to remake what many believe to be Hitchcock's first masterpiece, but what Ondaatje's done with The Lodger could not be mistaken for ambition. Without the fine pedigree of Hitchcock and a troupe of first-rate performers—and yes, even Ondaatje himself—it likely wouldn't be stopping in theaters before heading to DVD.