The editor of the serial killer thriller "Suspect Zero" has a tendency to cut away in the middle of a scene to things that have no direct bearing on what we'd just been watching. Some of these cuts suggest both infrared surveillance and a dada filmmaking workshop. Others are random visits with Ben Kingsley, who appears to be an obsessive-compulsive and our resident nut. We see him seated at a desk, playing word games and scribbling portentous images while a voice on a tape recorder soothingly commands him to "draw the environment, draw the environment now."
There may be wackos on the loose, but whatever's happening in the cutting room of this movie seems just as crazy. "Suspect Zero" has a jittery, unstable personality that prevents it from focusing on the tasks at hand, like catching serial killers before they strike again. Director E. Elias Merhige, whose last film was "Shadow of the Vampire," is clearly aiming for apocalypse -- you could start an elementary school with the number of missing children in the film -- but there's zilch in the thrill department.
In the foreground of all this is Aaron Eckhart as FBI agent Tom Mackelway. The mutilated bodies he's finding come with clues, some of which are taunts aimed at him. "Suspect Zero" is set in the sort of universe where madmen like Kingsley still have time to send hundreds of faxes. Kingsley's hammy, impeccably dressed loon might be a Godsend in cracking the case; he might be the devil. Or maybe he thinks he's in "The Silence of the Lambs." The movie just confuses and annoys you into not caring.
Carrie-Anne Moss, playing Fran Kulok, another agent and -- of course -- Mackelway's ex, is brought in to help straighten out this mess. Her assistance amounts to wearing pantsuits that make Eckhart's stained shirts and wrinkled slacks seem feminine. When Mackelway starts going sleepless and teary with certainty that this killer is after him, he turns to Kulok, who just stands there and watches him break down the way Gillian Anderson used to do to David Duchovny.
And just like on "The X-Files," Mackelway is on to something and, predictably enough, nobody believes him. Once he figures this out, his boss (Harry Lennix, pinched and nasal) gives him the day off. Which, as it turns out, is exactly what he needs to get his man. Had "Suspect Zero" not been rendered as a grisly abstraction, it could have been fun. Eckhart, who gets more rugged by the picture, certainly works hard to bring the audience along. But he's a nervous wreck for nothing. This movie isn't talking to us, it's talking to other serial killer movies.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.