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By no stretch of the imagination is MURDER BY NUMBERS ($27) perfect, but the film is a reasonably entertaining thriller. Actually, MURDER BY NUMBERS turns out to be a good starring vehicle for actress Sandra Bullock, who does some of her best work in the film. Even the direction by Barbet Schroeder is stylish and well paced. However, where the movie falters is in its screenplay, which throws out a lot of interesting ideas, but does not see many of through to fruition. One example is that MURDER BY NUMBERS makes allusions to Leopold and Loeb, yet shies away from clearly defining the nature of the relationship of the two killers. Perhaps in these politically correct times, the producers of MURDER BY NUMBERS were trying to avoid a BASIC INSTINCT type of backlash from members of the viewing public. Unfortunately, this and the film’s other unresolved ideas leave a less than satisfying taste in the viewer’s mouth.

In MURDER BY NUMBERS, Bullock portrays homicide detective Cassie Mayweather, who carries around so much emotional baggage that it is difficult for her to retain a partner. Cassie’s latest case not only involves solving the murder of a Jane Doe dumped in the woods, but also showing the ropes to Sam Kennedy (Ben Chaplin), a new partner who has transferred to homicide from vice. What initially appears to be a by the numbers murder investigation turns into something far more twisted, involving two high school seniors who have carried out the crime as an intellectual exercise. Although the murderers would have seemed to commit the perfect crime, all the way down to planting evidence to mislead the police, Cassie begins to suspect the truth. Unfortunately, Cassie has difficulty getting anyone else in the department to believe her seemingly outlandish theory. The cast of MURDER BY NUMBERS also features Ryan Gosling, Michael Pitt, Agnes Bruckner, Chris Penn, R.D. Call and Tom Verica.

Warner Home Video has made MURDER BY NUMBERS available on DVD in a 1.78:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. A separate full screen version is also available, but this review will focus only on the wide screen edition. In general, this is a very good-looking transfer with some caveats. The image is always sharp and very well defined, although in a couple of places it makes the digital compositing just a little more obvious. Colors are rendered rather intensely, perhaps a bit too intensely for their own good. During the opening credits there appears to be a partial solarization effect in the sky, which I suspect may be from the color intensity becoming unstable. Many of the film’s hues appear cranked just slightly beyond a realistic level, which is usually fine, although there were a couple of places where the flesh tones were just a little too healthy looking for their own good. Blacks appear accurate, whites are clean and the level of shadow detail is pretty darn good. The dual layered DVD didn’t display any appreciable digital compression artifacts.

MURDER BY NUMBERS features a good sounding and competently mixed Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. While not particularly showy or overly abundant on active sound effects, the sound designers did a good job of placing effects in all the discrete channels, and making sure that they pan between channels in natural sounding fashion. The mix conveys a nice sense of atmosphere and creates cohesive sonic environments with ambient sounds. Dialogue sounds very natural and is rendered without any intelligibility problems. Music is reproduced with excellent fidelity and its own distinct sense of presence. The bass channel is solid enough for the material and never seems artificially boomy. A French 5.1 channel soundtrack is also encoded onto the DVD, as are English, French and Spanish subtitles.

Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features as well as some extras. Director Barbet Schroeder and editor Lee Percy are on hand for an informative audio commentary that covers a good deal of ground on the making of the film. A theatrical trailer and cast & crew filmographies close out the extra features.

While MURDER BY NUMBERS isn’t perfect, it will make for an evening’s entertainment. Warner’s DVD looks and sounds pretty darn good, so fans of Sandra Bullock may want to check out the DVD, instead of waiting for Pay-Per-View.



Murder By Numbers (Widescreen Edition) (2002)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2002 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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