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Shot in the dark

Edge of Darkness

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Edge of Darkness (R)

Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown

It seems inevitable: When you take a six-hour miniseries made for British television and boil it down to a two-hour American movie, much is going to be lost. And since we're going from the BBC to Hollywood, it's easy to guess that the bulk of what will be lost is the detail of character. Even if Hollywood movies cared about character, there's simply not a lot of room for it if you keep all the source material's mystery and a bit of action.

What's weird about this new Edge of Darkness, however, is that what's left is surprisingly underpowered, a plodding police procedural that thinks holding back on "action" makes it "serious" even in the absence of anything substantial to take its place.

The film's basic story is shared with the 1985 original: Tom Craven (Mel Gibson) is a Boston homicide detective who witnesses the murder of his 20-something daughter, Emma (Bojana Novakovic), in an attack that he believes was targeting him. Once he scratches the surface of the crime, however, he begins to suspect that the killer may have been gunning for Emma after all. And so Craven is off on a hunt for the killer and some answers to explain her murder.

Gibson gets his trademarked "crazy" on, but it's strangely subdued, even when Craven gets to dish out some de rigueur vigilante revenge. It does seem as if screenwriters William Monahan and Andrew Bovell, hamfistedly adapting the 1985 script by Troy Kennedy-Martin, want us to get revved on Craven's grief-driven retribution.

But in apparently seeking to avoid the cheap thrill such a story can deliver, they've left us with nothing much beyond sullen pessimism that does nothing to sour us on the real world it wants to criticize — we know how bad things are. Instead, it sours us only on the movie itself.

The film and miniseries share a certain angry scoffing at the corporate and governmental misdeeds that turn out to be behind Emma's murder, but the miniseries — which is newly available on DVD and worth viewing — was primarily driven by the posthumous relationship that Craven (played there by Jurassic Park's Bob Peck) develops with his daughter (Joanne Whalley) as he discovers the woman she'd turned into while he investigates her murder.

He talks to her, too, and she talks back, in a ghostly pas de deux in which we're never quite sure whether she's present in a supernatural way or whether Dad is merely hallucinating her in his grief. It makes for a delicate portrayal of a father-daughter relationship, a type rarely seen on film.

All of that is gone from this Edge; the little girl Emma haunts Craven's memory from time to time, but that's about it. I can't help but wonder whether director Martin Campbell thought he was simply restaging that 1985 miniseries, which he also directed, in all its solemn, odd quietude, without ever realizing that everything that made the first version work had been excised. If so, it's an unfortunate blind spot, because Campbell knows how to make genuinely exciting movies; he gave us the enthralling Casino Royale and the huge fun of the Antonio Banderas Zorro flicks.

All of which makes this new Edge of Darkness that much more stultifying.

scene@csindy.com

Related Film

Edge of Darkness

Official Site: edge-of-darkness.warnerbros.com

Director: Martin Campbell

Writer: William Monahan and Andrew Bovell

Producer: Tim Headington, Graham King and Michael Wearing

Cast: Danny Huston, Mel Gibson, Ray Winstone, Shawn Roberts, Peter Hermann, Denis O'Hare, Jay O. Sanders, Caterina Scorsone, Gbenga Akinnagbe and Bojana Novakovic

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