The public-relations pitch for Mathieu Kassovitz’s grisly policier The Crimson Rivers is “Seven meets The Silence of the Lambs,” and once these kissing cousins are finished introducing each other to Hawks, Melville, and the X-Files movie, the conversation devolves into mere spot-the-reference banter. Kassovitz strips the David Fincher canon to the bone: Nietzsche fixations, hurricane weather, pulled-rug ending. The one-bare-lightbulb-per-room ration is strictly enforced. Torture-murders abound, but are only glimpsed in their aftermath. And just like Seven‘s John Doe, the killer turns down a perfect opportunity to slay his cop pursuer; Jean Reno, playing Morgan Freeman, theorizes, “He wants us to understand his vengeance.”
Monsieur Reno has his work cut out for him. Though the film’s rampant pilferings hide in plain sight, the blood-and-formaldehyde trail becomes impossible to follow amid demon child-slayers, eugenics conspiracies, evil twins, and the prophecies of a crazed nun. But The Crimson Rivers never lacks for energy, and the director and his stars stride with focused confidence through the hooey. Investigating ghastly murders at an elite college nestled in the French Alps, Reno is a vice-squad vet whose path dovetails with young-turk cop Vincent Cassel’s probe of what appears to be a neo-Nazi desecration of a girl’s grave. Co-screenwriters Kassovitz and Jean-Christophe Grangé lavish attention on a racial-purity scheme supposedly brewing within the ivory tower, but they don’t bother presenting more than one prime suspect, remaining content to riff on genre. The brash newbie tries to get a rise out of the remote, unreadable old-timer. Those presumed dead spring to life. The femme (Nadia Farès) goes promptly fatale.
Departing from the purposefully splintered rhythms of La Haine, Kassovitz adopts a fluid, even stately pace, though he still loves to boomerang his camera in swooping circles and blow off steam with out-of-nowhere bursts of violence, as when Cassel happens upon a seedy skinhead pool hall and suddenly turns into Jackie Chan in Supercop. Consistently ludicrous, The Crimson Rivers lets climate control its literally disastrous finale, while Reno provides the winking eye of the storm, graciously tempering the mayhem with every amused grunt and barely perceptible grin.
Eddie Murphy takes on a similarly becalming straight-man role in Dr. Dolittle 2, though since his Nutty Professor franchise all but preempts the necessity of other performers in a Murphy vehicle, it’s dispiriting to watch him stand patiently by and concoct reaction shots for quipping raccoons and dancing bears. The doctor has one month to introduce a circus-raised endangered bear named Archie to the woods and thereby save a patch of forest marked for clear-cutting. The lurching script was obviously written with the previously inevitable industry strike in mind: Moved by Archie’s travails, animals nationwide stage their own May of ’68—racehorses won’t race, milk cows won’t milk, dogs won’t catch Frisbees, but dancing movie bears continue dancing in movies.