This thoroughly unpleasant thriller from the hands of Joel Schumacher ("Batman and Robin") offers very little in its lurid tour of snuff films and the seedy pornographic underworld. A wooden Nicolas Cage stars as a private detective hired by a tycoon's widow, who discovers in her dead husband's safe some 8mm footage of a young girl being sexually abused and slaughtered. Cage's job is to determine the veracity of the film and to find out the girl's identity, whether she be alive or dead. What could have been a taut, nerve-jangling thriller is instead a lumbering, overwrought but underwritten tale of vigilante justice. Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker also penned the imaginative and compelling "Seven", but you wouldn't know it from this tired and monotonous script. Schumacher tries for echoes of both "The Silence of the Lambs" and Paul Schrader's "Hardcore" (which stars George C. Scott as a father trying to find his daughter in the seedy porn industry), but despite some slick camerawork, the film fails to draw the audience into either the mystery of the missing girl or Cage's supposed internal conflicts. It's not so much the unsavory subject matter as it is the sloppy and unimaginative filmmaking that makes the movie unbearable. Of the entire cast only Joaquin Phoenix, as a charismatic goth boy who works at an adult book store, comes away with a memorable performance. "--Mark Englehart"
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