Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Hangman: It’s a Puzzler

So, there’s another serial killer gimmick taken. You’d think the cops would actually try to solve the puzzle, because that word could possibly be one of those clue thingies, like “Rosebud,” but these cops couldn’t be bothered. They are too busy spinning their wheels in Johnny Martin’s Hangman (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

This was a terrible week for Det. Will Ruiney to get stuck chaperoning Christi Davies, a hack journalist. As fate would have it, he draws a serial killer case during her first ride-along. This will be a gruesome one. The killer slices the letters of his hangman game into each victim’s chest while they are still living. It turns out this case is also personal. In addition to the signature gallows template left at the first crime scene, the perp also carved the badge numbers of Det. Ruiney and his retired ex-partner, Det. Ray Archer into a desk. However, this might not technically be the first victim, considering the killer is already on his second letter.

The good news is the reporter is surprisingly helpful and team-oriented. The bad news is Ruiney might be even more closely connected to the case than he realized. Regardless, the unlikely trio will begin a nightly race against the clock when they determine the killer executes his victims at 11:00 PM, precisely on the dot.

Frankly, Hangman is nicely pacey and surprisingly effective during the 24-hour countdowns to murder, but the film craters down the stretch. Suddenly, people are acting weird and twitchy for no reason, but it is the final twist the really brings on the face-palms. Seriously, did screenwriters Charles Huttinger and Michael Caissie deliberately set out to undermine whatever good will the film might have accrued?

On the plus side, Al Pacino mostly reins himself in as Det. Archer, at least until the third act, when all bets are off. Karl Urban and Brittany Snow are respectably intense as Ruiney and Davies. The three form a decent combo when they get into their groove, plus Sarah Shahi gives the film some edge as the no-nonsense, wheelchair-bound Capt. Lisa Watson. Unfortunately, the Hangman winds up being an underwhelming, non-entity, which is obviously a severe drawback for a serial killer movie.

Hangman evaporates from memory pretty quickly, but it is still a better vehicle for Pacino (whose work has been hit-or-miss in the extreme over the last ten years) than the erratic Son of No One or the lame Misconduct. We’ve seen worse, but that’s our job. It’s the kind of movie that holds your attention just well enough when you get home late at night from a gig or a company holiday party, but you would never actually buy a ticket to see it in a theater. Nevertheless, it duly opens this Friday (12/22) in New York, at the Cinema Village.