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Published: Friday, 10/29/2004

Movie review: SAW *


Some fashion advice for the Jigsaw Killer, the mysterious villain of the new horror movie SAW: Mr. Jigsaw, no matter how evil you may be, no serious serial killer would be caught dead in a dark cape. This is not a good look on a grown murderer. And yet as diabolical schemes go, I admit, the scenario that you've rigged is more diabolical than the usual:

A middle-aged doctor (Cary Elwes) and a young photographer (Leigh Whannell) wake up in a large room and find themselves chained to a wall. Chained on opposite sides of that room, they find themselves unable to remove the steel clasps around their ankles. They do not know each other, have never met each other, and neither has any idea of how they got into this situation. The doctor holds a pistol.

Between them, just out of reach, lies a dead body. A tape recorder is discovered that explains in a fittingly diabolical cackle that the good doctor has a choice: If he shoots the photographer within the next six hours, all is well (for everyone but the photographer, of course). If he doesn't, his family will be killed.

Now about that title.

I assume it has to do with the idea that what you see is arguably not what you saw. But any semi-regular viewer of twisty thrillers in the post-Usual Suspects era will tell you: The ocean is full of red herring. On the other hand, that title inadvertently refers to how the film broadens its scope, goes outside that room and see-saws around a plot so convoluted with subplots and minor characters, the longer it drones on, the less you care. There's a rule of thumb in films like this: There are only as many suspects as there are characters. The more SAW tap dances around that simple idea - which we instinctively realize, whether we've ever considered it - the more desperate it seems.

Or even more likely, taken on a literal level that title refers to the other items left for our two men: hacksaws, not strong enough to cut through a chain, but plenty strong to cut through flesh and bone - if, you know, they wish.

SAW - one of the those cheap psychological thrillers freshly graduated from the Seven School of Sick Scenarios that exploits our fascination with the details of torture (but isn't curious enough to wonder why we're fascinated) - is a bloody, derivative mess, so sadistic it sets off your prudish side. Here's how it felt to watch: Remember the board game Mouse Trap? It worked liked this: You moved your mouse around a standard playing board and at a certain point, one player would trigger an elaborate Rube Goldberg device erected over the board that required like a zillion working plastic parts, few of which ever worked smoothly. But if it worked, a mousetrap would fall.

The problem is, once this contraption was triggered, the entire thing had to be re-rigged, an arduous process for impatient 7-year-old hands. And the most sadistic part was that the joke was on you, because this whirli-gig had nothing to do with the game play. It was just plastic fireworks.

Monopoly was way easier.

That's how I feel about SAW.

Seven was way easier, and less arbitrary. And SAW, which is too impatient to work through the details of its over-intricate story, is all plastic fireworks. It uses flashbacks inside of flashbacks, multiple subplots - in the service of arriving at a surprise ending that isn't much of a surprise. And the most sadistic part here is that, like Mouse Trap, you can see the entertainment hidden within. What director James Wan made is absurdist theater, a B-movie spin on Waiting for Godot - but not that he realizes this.

Contact Christopher Borrelli at: cborrelli@theblade.com

or 419-724-6117.

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