r. Alex Cross (Morgan Freeman) is in the middle of a sting operation against a serial rapist when things turn sour. The perpetrator is shot, his car spins out of control, and Cross’ undercover partner Officer Tracie (Jill Teed) is killed in a spectacularly silly action scene involving unbelievably mediocre CG. Cross feels responsible – as he should – but won’t give any interviews after the fact. This admission of error and fallibility faithfully follows the Cross character around, though it makes him less admirable as a sleuth. As with the previous film, “Kiss the Girls,” Cross’ mistakes may be realistic but they’re far from appreciably cinematic.
Eight months later, Professor Gary Soneji (Michael Wincott) murders a teacher (Ocean Hellman) and abducts young student Megan (Mika Boorem), slipping away from the numerous Secret Service agents guarding the school to board his boat, the C-Dreamer. Megan is the daughter of Maryland Senator Hank Rose (Michael Moriarty), so the immediate assumption is that the kidnapping will be about money. But when Cross receives a taunting phone call from Soneji, it’s evident that the policeman will be drawn into a complex game of deception – and acquire a new partner in the form of disgraced agent Jezzie Flannigan (Monica Potter).
What makes this series of films, based on James Patterson’s novels, more effective than other run-of-the-mill thrillers is Morgan Freeman. He creates a calm, cool protagonist, even if he’s scripted to succumb to bouts of prideful carelessness that get people killed, instigate law enforcement turf wars, botch possible apprehensions of suspects, or engage in action-packed shootouts that contradict the intelligence of a circuitous case. It’s occasionally more crime-fighting than crime-solving, boasting a phone call chase sequence that predates the one in “Die Hard with a Vengeance” (1995) – though this one (written in 1993) is less memorable thanks to simply being beaten to a box office translation.
Wisely, this time around, the culprit isn’t a mystery (at least, ostensibly). Instead, discovering motives and hunting the identified criminal take precedent, allowing for better character development and a comparable amount of suspense. Wincott isn’t the greatest of villains, but he’s given a brief opportunity to transcend cookie-cutter psychopaths. Sadly, he doesn’t quite accomplish the task. Although “Along Came a Spider” is adapted from the first Alex Cross novel, this theatrical version arrived second (seemingly like a sequel), making its twists and turns feel expected instead of surprising. Nevertheless, they’re just as suited to a filmic treatment, right alongside the contrivances that conveniently help Cross solve the case – and allow supporting characters to be unbelievably lucky or brave.