Fri, 30 Nov 2001

Don't expect much in 'Don't Say a Word'

Joko E.H. Anwar, Contributor, Jakarta

Don't Say a Word, ** out of four stars; Thriller, 113 minutes; Starring Michael Douglas, Brittany Murphy, Sean Bean, Famke Janssen, Jennifer Esposito; Directed by Gary Fleder; A 20th Century Fox Film Corporation Release

Don't Say a Word is the kind of film that seems to be going in a direction that could lead to many things, then nothing happens.

The opening suggests the film is going to be a good psychological thriller, an intriguing mystery, a gripping action piece -- but in the end, the audience is left dissatisfied.

Every scene in the film is likely to give you a strong feeling of deja vu since it offers nothing original.

It opens well with a bank robbery scene, where Sean Bean plays one of the criminals. It's nothing special but the setup makes viewers think that something big is going to come.

Bean is convincing, again playing a man obsessed with tracking down someone who has crossed him, as he did in Patriot Games.

Here, he spends years trying to find the daughter of his partner in the robbery who took a ten-million-dollar gem they stole from the bank.

Meanwhile, Michael Douglas plays Dr. Nathan Conrad, a psychiatrist at a mental hospital where a mysterious girl named Elisabeth (Brittany Murphy) has just been admitted.

While the silent girl is reportedly hostile toward other people, Conrad is able to get her to speak -- even though what she says seems unintelligible to the doctor at first.

However, after his young daughter Jessie (talented Skye McCole Bartusiak) is kidnapped, Conrad realizes that Elisabeth is more than just a mentally ill patient.

The kidnappers demand that the doctor make Elisabeth tell him a six-digit number that will lead them to the gem, which is hidden somewhere.

The film plays like a reworking of the best-forgotten Schwarzenegger film End of Days, which shares similar plot flaws and pretentiousness.

As where Satan in End of Days finds it difficult to track down his bride-to-be Robin Tunney, it also takes years for the high- tech criminals in Don't Say a Word to find an innocent little girl.

The film also takes itself too seriously and ends up providing only a few good moments for the audience.

Worse, the film shifts direction from thriller to straight action near the end, whereby Douglas' character transforms from a family man doctor into action hero with unconvincing cause.

All this results in a ridiculous climax that is almost laughable.

The film's saving grace is the actors' performances, which still manage to give us something without the script offering significant roles for them to play.

Douglas still brings a presence to the film even though his character is one of the weakest he has played.

Murphy is suitable as the long-suffering girl. In fact, the rising actress is the most enjoyable to watch here.

You also have the opportunity to see young Bartusiak as Douglas' daughter, after she probably made you weep in The Patriot where she played Mel Gibson's little daughter.

You may be a little bit disappointed to see the fabulous Famke Janssen wasted. Her character as Douglas' wife has her leg broken and is confined to bed for most of her screen time.

However, there are still some good moments in the film that are likely to give less demanding audiences something to hold on to. In short, don't expect too much from this movie.