Don’t Say A Word

“Don’t Say A Word” could have been a decent thriller if only it had an original thought on its mind. It’s based on the novel by Andrew Klavan, but it feels as if has been pieced together from numerous Alfred Hitchcock movies.

Look close and you’ll see glimpses of “Rear Window,” “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” “Psycho,” “Frenzy” and “Family Plot.”

I wondered if any of this way intentional, and then I noticed that the screenplay was co-written by Patrick Smith Kelly, who remastered Hitchcock’s “Dial M For Murder” into the Michael Douglas thriller “A Perfect Murder.”

Now Kelly and co-writer Anthony Peckham (making his feature debut) give us a suspense-thriller that fails to thrill. Anyone who has seen a Hitchcock film (or any of the numerous imitations over the years) won’t find anything new here.

Michael Douglas stars as Dr. Nathan Conrad, a respected psychiatrist who shares a spacious New Jersey apartment with his loving wife Aggie (Famke Janssen) and adorable daughter Jessie (Skye McCole Bartusiak).

“Don’t Say A Word” begins with a 10-year-old flashback, one of those precision-timed bank robberies that goes off without a hitch. Quick in, quick out. Then bad guy leader Patrick Koster (Sean Bean) learns he’s been double-crossed.

Jump forward to the present. It’s the day before Thanksgiving, and Conrad is doing his best to get home. His last stop, to secure the bird, is cut short when a colleague begs him to diagnose a new patient named Elisabeth (Brittany Murphy). Conrad eventually makes it home, where he tends to Aggie, who has been sidelined with a broken leg.

After a good night’s sleep, Conrad wakes up to find out that Jessie has been kidnapped. The kidnapers want him to extract a six-number code from the memory of Elisabeth, giving him until 5 o’clock to retrieve the information. Since the kidnapers have the upper hand, Conrad does what he can, but has no idea what he’s looking for.

Elisabeth isn’t much help, a shattered young woman who is obviously hiding something horrible that happened in the past. Desperate to unlock her secret and save his daughter, Conrad takes matters into his own hands, sneaking Elisabeth out of the mental hospital. He hopes that a change of scenery will help Elisabeth recover her lost memory, and provide a link between her and the kidnapers.

The writers pile it on, but their attempt to create a multi-layered plot is mostly clutter. There are so many subplots in “Don’t Say A Word” that they dilute the main story, which isn’t strong enough to support the additional weight. After about an hour, the film begins to crumble like a house of cards and becomes nothing more than a series of chases.

Douglas is fine as Conrad. Like his characters in “Fatal Attraction” and “Falling Down,” Douglas is at his best playing average men who are forced by circumstance to take matters into their owns hands. Conrad is an extension of those characters.

As good as Douglas is, he can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. His transformation from order taker to order giver is so poorly written that even Douglas can’t make it believable. It feels like nothing more than a cheap plot device. So does most of the second half of the film, which stretches credibility to the point of absurdity.

The writers and director Gary Fleder create a world that only exists in the movies. None of this would work or seem plausible in real life. Characters are conveniently created and discarded to advance the plot. The wonderful Jennifer Esposito struggles through a subplot about a female police detective who stumbles across the kidnaper’s scheme. Oliver Platt makes a brief appearance as one of Conrad’s colleagues who gets in over his head, while Janssen limps through the James Stewart “Rear Window” role.

The villains are by-the-book despicable, jewel thieves who will do anything and kill anyone who get in their way. Bean snaps and snarls as the leader of the group, one of those high-tech outfits that always has an African-American at the computer keyboard.

On a much better note, Brittany Murphy is outstanding as Elisabeth. Murphy makes us believe the pain and suffering going on inside Elisabeth’s head. Bartusiak is also delightful as Conrad’s smart and self-sufficient daughter Jessie. I particularly liked Jessie’s “The Man Who Knew Too Much” attempt to contact her mother through song and an air vent.

Director Fleder, whose “Kiss The Girls” and “Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead” established him as a friend of film noir, does little to make the script more than it is. With the help of cinematographer Amir Mokri, Fleder paints the screen with gritty, cobalt blue imagery, but once you get past the scenery everything seems flat.

You’re left waiting for the characters and plot to catch up, but they never do. You could leave ten minutes before the film ends and never miss a beat.


Douglas thriller borrows heavily from Hitchcock


Michael Douglas, Brittany Murphy, Sean Bean, Famke Janssen, Skye McCole Bartusiak, Jennifer Esposito, Guy Torry. Directed by Gary Fleder. 115 Minutes. Rated R


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