Thrill Kill Cult


Yet another tale of two bright, privileged young men driven to homicide by existential boredom, Murder by Numbers joins a bulging dossier of celluloid case studies descended from the Leopold-Loeb thrill killings. (The sapphic true-crime perennial, the Papin sisters’ domestic revolt, is, if anything, even more popular; see the new Murderous Maids.) Barbet Schroeder’s return to the studio payroll after last year’s Our Lady of the Assassins offers no fresh insights into the amoral mind, but it does provide Nietzsche buffs a guilty pleasure to file alongside their Nine Inch Nails CDs.

Tony Gayton’s script builds its pyre of clichés with giggly abandon: Justin (Michael Pitt) is a reclusive brainiac who reads Rimbaud, cultivates orchids, and writes term papers crammed with übermenschian concepts. Richard (Ryan Gosling) is a pretty hate machine in a red leather jacket, with a knee-weakening smile and sleepy dagger eyes. Class dork and Mr. Popular, the secret buddies arrange nocturnal rendezvous in an abandoned manse on a promontory high above the Pacific, where they revel in the baleful ends-of-the-earth ambience and make diabolical toasts (“Let’s derange the world!”) over shots of absinthe.

But owing no doubt to the requirements of Sandra Bullock, the movie’s above-the-line star, executive producer, and worst enemy, this potboiling procedural never stands a chance of disproving its title. Bullock plays Cassie Mayweather, a detective who lives on a houseboat and is wont to pore over gruesome forensic photos while knocking back Jim Beam and listening to Sheryl Crow. Semi-butch and flinty, she chews up her male colleagues at will, gladly deploying sex as a weapon—as dumbfounded rookie partner Ben Chaplin soon discovers. All of which the film patronizingly views as the festering products of a long-repressed trauma. Self-evident but coyly withheld (her supervisor warns against identifying too much with the victim . . . hmm), Cassie’s backstory nags at the narrative like a leaky faucet, and the idiot psychobabble threatens to engulf the movie.

The laziness extends to the depiction of the teenagers—iconic ciphers or Larry Clark specimens, depending on what’s convenient at any given moment. (The screenplay tends to smudge the subtleties of their relationship, especially the erotic undercurrents.) Still, as long as Schroeder stays with the kids, the film musters a good deal of restless tabloid intensity, and even the occasional twinge of pathos. Pitt (of Hedwig and Bully) adeptly conveys the short circuitry of an overstimulated intellect; Gosling generates electromagnetic sparks like no other young actor working today (he’s even better in the indies The Believer and The Slaughter Rule). Mired in contradictions and improbabilities, they seal themselves off in a private danse macabre that’s scarcely less enthralling for its familiar choreography.

Shot for the most part by astronauts bobbing about in the cabin of the still-under-construction International Space Station and with a camera fastened to the cargo bay of a space shuttle, Space Station 3D (at the Loews Lincoln Square) is an IMAX gawkfest of a higher order. It’s easy enough to ignore the canned Discovery Channel commentary (“Space,” narrator Tom Cruise solemnly announces, “is a very special place”) and the fuzzy we-are-the-world vibes (“From space you don’t see any borders,” a Russian cosmonaut declares) when there’s also a bone-rattling rocket takeoff that appears to shatter the camera lens, a VR exercise simulating a zero-gravity free fall, and vertiginous peeks from the portholes 250 miles up. You’re paying for the view, and it’s truly breathtaking.

Small-town boy befriends West Hollywood hustler. Illegal substances are ingested, circuit parties attended. Even from deep in a K-hole, you’d need about 10 seconds to figure out the remaining plot twists in this jaded muscle-queen morality tale. Dirk Shafer’s Circuit (Jour de Fete, opens April 26 at the Quad) expends a mind-boggling 130 minutes.