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Film review: Don’t Say a Word

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DON'T SAY A WORD —** — Michael Douglas, Brittany Murphy, Sean Bean, Famke Janssen, Oliver Platt, Jennifer Esposito, Skye McCole Bartusiak, Conrad Goode, Guy Torry; rated R (violence, profanity, gore, brief vulgarity, brief drug use, brief nudity); see the "On the Screen" column on Page W2 for complete listing of local theaters.

The biggest mystery about "Don't Say a Word" is how a cast this talented managed to find itself in a thriller this routine, implausible and uninvolving.

Considering their ability to make the sketchiest material better, surely the likes of Brittany Murphy, Oliver Platt, Famke Janssen and — most of all — Michael Douglas, deserve better than this.

What's worse, "Don't Say a Word" is one of those films that seems to be overly impressed with itself. But it's not nearly as smart as the filmmakers apparently think it is, and it completely disintegrates amid some of the most ludicrous plotting of late.

Also, the focus on atmosphere and supposed tension rather than characterization pretty much assures that the story will be filled with two-dimensional cut-outs rather than flesh-and-blood creations, which makes it hard to care about what happens to any of them.

And that includes Nathan Conrad (Douglas), a successful New York psychiatrist whose world turns upside down within 24 hours. His problems begin when he agrees to see a new patient, Elisabeth Burrows (Brittany Murphy), an initially catatonic young woman with a past history of violence. He's initially troubled by their first meeting, but gives it little thought.

That is, until kidnappers take his 8-year-old daughter (Skye McCole Bartusiak) and threaten to kill her unless Nathan can retrieve a certain piece of information from his new patient. If that isn't bad enough, they've only given him eight hours to get that information.

In adapting Andrew Klavan's novel, screenwriters Anthony Peckham and Patrick Smith Kelly get a little too ambitious — introducing subplots about Nathan's colleague (Platt) and a detective (Jennifer Esposito) investigating Elisabeth's past history that they can't possible resolve within two hours.

And rather than tell a straightforward story, director Gary Fleder favors filmmaking gimmicks, such as desaturated colors and jittery, handheld camera work, none of which serves the plot or characters well.

That leaves the burden on the cast members, and there's only so much they can do with this material. That Douglas manages to keep a straight face throughout the increasingly ludicrous plot is laudable, while Murphy and Janssen (playing Nathan's bed-ridden wife) try to add some sense of dignity to this mess.

"Don't Say a Word" is rated R for violence (gunfire and hand-to-hand), occasional use of strong profanity, gore, crude sexual humor and references, brief simulated drug use (tranquilizers, injected) and brief glimpses of a nude body. Running time: 114 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com