There are certain rules a thriller needs to adhere to in order to be successful. Characters that you can buy into and a coherent (and at least mostly plausible) storyline are right at the top of the list.
Don’t Say a Word breaks all the rules, and in this case that’s far from complimentary.
R for violence, language
Based on the book by Andrew Klavan, the story revolves around a teenage girl, Elisabeth Burrows (Brittany Murphy, Summer Catch) who was mentally scarred ten years ago by the tragic death of her father. Moving from one mental ward to the next, she has cut herself off from the rest of the world. She also knows a number that can gain access to a precious jewel.
Enter Dr. Nathan Conrad (Michael Douglas, Traffic), entrusted with the task of getting Elisabeth to open up and share her secret.
Nathan has his own motivation for getting her to speak up: his daughter has been taken hostage and the ransom is the number tucked away in Elisabeth’s head.
Stop Making Sense
For a wealthy New York psychiatrist, Nathan lacks a lot of moxie when it comes to dealing with ruthless, faceless degenerates. He’s told to not get the police involved and instantly he caves, becoming a puppet for the kidnappers as he follows their every demand without question or thought. (Well, this is a Michael Douglas movie and he suddenly finds his own masculinity in the film’s second half.)
Every bit the pawn is Nathan’s psychiatric buddy, Louis Sachs (Oliver Platt, Bulworth) . He’s just another overpaid creep too afraid to inform the police his girlfriend has been taken hostage in the same cause – even when confronted face-to-face by Officer Sandra Cassidy (Jennifer Esposito, Summer of Sam).
As for Sandra, she is yet another wonder; she can pull significant leads out of… thin air. The movie is riddled with instances of the principal characters knowing things out of convenience rather than out of logic. Leaving your brain at the door isn’t quite enough for Don’t Say a Word. It’s best to leave it in an oxygen bar in beautiful downtown Burbank.
Shut Your Mouth
The only real compliment that can be paid to this mess is that it has given Ms. Murphy a high profile role that shows she has talent. Like the rest of the star-studded cast, she’ll be able to put this marvel of movie sludge behind her.
That said, director Gary Fleder (Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead) still has some learning to do when it comes to creating suspense. Steely blue cinematography is not enough of a mood-maker to cover up a director struggling to wrangle tension out of hokey material.
With the main characters the source of enough forehead smacking to give Brett Favre a concussion, the palm gets worked overtime by the film’s nonsensical conclusion. Perhaps the book was able to create a sense of creepiness, but the film, instead of achieving gasps of awe, earns groans of “You’ve gotta be kidding!”