Pop Culture

Reviews For The Uneasily Quarantined:

Title: Spiral

Describe This Movie In One WarGames Quote:

JOSHUA: Shall we play a game?

Brief Plot Synopsis: Crackpot concocts clever contraptions, killing crooked cops.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 2 Shrimp Scampi out of 5.

Tagline: "From the Book of Saw."

Better Tagline: "Must be an Old Testament book."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Someone wants to "play a game" with the local cops, but it's not the feared Jigsaw Killer; he died years ago. At the center of the copycat's plot is detective Zeke Banks (Chris Rock), son of retired Chief Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson) and a pariah within the department after turning in a fellow cop. Together with his new rookie partner (Max Minghella), Banks soon becomes obsessed with catching this new killer.

"Critical" Analysis:
 At nine movies (and counting?), the Saw franchise is longer in the tooth than Middle Earth or Pirates of the Caribbean and tied with Fast and the Furious (or will be, once F9 catches up later this year). Yet for such an extensive cinematic universe (and aside from a handful of murders), it's surprisingly forgettable.

Does one have to watch the previous eight Saw/Saw-adjacent movies before diving into Spiral? Emphatically, no. If you've seen one or two — hell, if you're aware of the concept of a deranged Rube Goldberg murdering people with elaborate deathtraps — you'll get the thrust.

And the fact that the new killer isn't Jigsaw frees director Darren Lynn Bousman from worrying too much about the killer's convoluted backstory (which, as the helmer of Saws II, III, and IV, he helped create). Instead, the past murders provide a jumping-off point for Banks, who's saddled with his own baggage.

Rock enjoys some initial success playing the unstable detective, which opens like a combo of Beverly Hills Cop and Dirty Harry, right down to an aggravated captain (Marisol Nichols). His embittered patter about things like Forrest Gump and his divorce come easily enough, and he's better here than he was in FX's Fargo, at any rate.

Unfortunately, he can't sell Banks's gradual descent into paranoia and madness. Because ultimately, the Saw movies aren't about the psychology of Jigsaw (or whomever), but about the cyclical nature of violence and how our past actions come back around on us, right?

Ha ha, no. They're about gnarly kills, dude.

The contraptions in Spiral are appreciably vicious, but — like the movie itself — oddly perfunctory. This movie was somewhat famously pitched (by Rock, no less) as a continuation of the Saw franchise, so the murder machinery wasn't exactly shoehorned in. On the other hand, the few deaths come and go with rapidity befitting the slapdash plot.

Like the other entries he's directed, Bousman leaves things open-ended. And it's entirely possible that franchise loyalty and audiences starved for big screen horror will lead to a new series of movies, with Rock presumably assuming a Costas Mandylor-like role going forward.

Maybe he should've thought this pitch through.

Spiral is in theaters today.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar