Despite huge lapses in logic (and the usual R-rated excesses), "Copy-cat" is an efficient thriller in the current serial-killer genre, thanks to top-of-the-line performances from its stars, Sigourney Weaver and Holly Hunter. (Not to mention an eccentric, off-the-wall turn by singer Harry Connick Jr.)
The opening scene introduces us to psychiatrist Helen Hudson (Weaver) — a best-selling author and lecturer whose specialty is serial killers — as she is addressing a group of college students.
Afterward, she goes into a nearby public restroom and is attacked by a serial killer who has been stalking her, Daryll Lee Cullum (Connick). Cullum has rigged up an elaborate way to hang her in one of the stalls, and though she is rescued at the last minute, the event leaves her emotionally scarred. As a result, Hudson becomes a paranoid agoraphobic and is unable to leave her San Francisco apartment for the next 13 months.
Meanwhile, tough, intelligent and patient homicide detective M.J. Monahan (Hunter) is investigating murders that seem to point to a new serial killer. And she is initially annoyed at a series of anonymous phone calls that offer curt advice — until she discovers they are coming from Hudson.
Eventually, Monahan and Hudson team up, and they soon discover that the killer is copying specific murders committed by other, famous serial killers, including the Boston Strangler, the Hillside Strangler and Son of Sam.
But who is he? And what famed murderer will he copy next?
First-time screenwriter David Madsen and Ann Biderman ("Ameri-can Dreamer") have come up with a clever gimmick here, which echoes in some ways the current hit film "Seven." It's a horrifying idea that someone would mimic famous killings, perhaps even more horrifying than someone plotting murders around the seven deadly sins. And it's also good to see a female "buddy-cop-picture" for a change.
But the writers also use some overly familiar devices to bolster the plot, as with imprisoned Cul-lum being used — a la Hannibal Lecter in "The Silence of the Lambs" — to help find this new killer. And Hudson's command of gee-whiz computer techniques is something we've seen far too many times this year.
In fact, most of the way, "Copycat" is a doggedly by-the-numbers genre piece, which is not helped by the agoraphobia contrivance (which makes Hudson an obvious caged target) or the film's many ridiculous leaps in logic. The opening scene, for example, though chillingly directed by Jon Amiel ("Sommersby"), is nonetheless based entirely on coincidence. If Hudson did not go into the restroom, or if her bodyguard didn't fail to do his job properly, or if she didn't step into the right stall, Cullum's attack would have automatically been foiled. And the San Francisco Police Department takes a beating several times, with cops doing far to many dumb things and the response time during the film's lengthy climax taking far too long.
Of course, you're not supposed to think about such things in a movie like this. You're just supposed to suspend disbelief and go with it.
And much of the way, Weaver and Hunter are so good — and their performances are so on-the-mark entertaining — that they will make you do just that. (All of the supporting players — including Connick — are also very good.)
"Copycat" is rated R for violence, gore, profanity, vulgarity and nudity.