Opened: October 27, 1995 | Rated: R
"Copycat," about a San Francisco detective and a psychologist who pair up to hunt for a serial killer, isn't much of a departure from the genre standard. But with it's few twists on the formula -- a female lead detective and a clever quirk slapped on to an otherwise generic baddie (he imitates other famous killers) -- it's different enough to be a box office draw and to avoid any jokes about the title.
Part of a welcome trend toward thrillers that create hand-wringing tension without showing the gory details, "Copycat" also takes the high road with it's characters. The cops and the killers are smart and well spoken in this film, until the last 10 minutes when the killer seemingly tries to cuss people to death.
Sigourney Weaver plays up the vulnerable underbelly of her trademark stoic character in "Copycat." As a forensic psychologist specializing in serial killers, she becomes agoraphobic after one of her subjects tries to kill her and she spends most of the film in the private prison of her apartment.
Her personal psycho is later-day crooner Harry Connick, Jr., who goes at his role with a little too much enthusiasm in his first scene (with badly dyed orange hair and a blemishes-dotted face he reminded me of a circus clown, frankly), in which he sneaks into the ladies room and tried to hang the good doctor.
Luckily he settles down for his only other major scene, and gets some of the better lines in the film, when Weaver's shut-in shrink interviews him in prison via computer to pick his brain regarding the current murders.
Pretty boy William McNamara ("Chasers"), plays the murderer who changes his modus operandi from Son of Sam to the Hillside Strangler to Jeffrey Dahmer in order to keep the cops off his scent.
The heroine in "Copycat" is Holly Hunter as a homicide detective who has seen enough murder to make her shut her emotions off like a faucet.
Hunter has made a career of fleshing out understated characters ("Broadcast News," "The Piano"), and she manages to invoke audience empathy here, even though the exploration of her character is only superficial.
There is some kind of romantic tension alleged between Hunter's cynical cop and her handsome young partner (Dermot Mulroney, "Point of No Return"), but most of it seems to have been left on the cutting room floor, reducing Mulroney to what in any male cop movie would be role of "the girl" -- nice to look at but expendable.
Despite it's character flaws, "Copycat" is an effective thriller with a creative core idea and doesn't feel overly predictable even though that idea is played out in a formula picture.
The suspense is well mapped and director Jon Amiel ("Sommersby") never passes on a chance to use symbolic visuals -- dutch angles, ghost-like photos all over Weaver's home, windows that look like prison bars -- to remind his audience of the characters' unease.
Nobody will be checking the back seat of their car before they drive home from seeing "Copycat," but for a decent adrenaline rush without the churning stomach, this is the right kind of murder movie.
This review appeared in the Daily Republic, Fairfield, CA.
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