Screenplay : Ann Biderman and Frank Pierson
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1995
Stars : Sigourney Weaver (Helen Hudson), Holly Hunter (M.J. Monahan), Dermot Mulroney (Ruben Goetz), William McNamara (Peter Foley), Harry Connick Jr. (Daryll Lee Cullum), J.E. Freeman (Lt. Quinn), Will Patton (Nicoletti)
Unfortunately, virtually no filmmaker today can make a suspense thriller about a serial murderer without the inevitable comparisons to the films of Alfred Hitchcock and, more notably, 1991's Oscar winner for Best Picture, "The Silence of the Lambs." Such is the case with "Copycat," British director Jon Amiel's latest entry into the genre.
The story revolves around a serial killer whose trademark style is copycatting famous murderers before him such as Ted Bundy and the Boston Strangler. Although the plot starts out tight, it unravels quickly as the film progresses. There are several scenes that feel as though they belong nowhere in the film, and implausible behavior and unexplained actions become the norm. Stupid behavior from intelligent people has always been a bothersome trademark of Hollywood, and this film is no different.
The acting is the most notable aspect of the film. Holly Hunter plays determined cop M.J. Monahan, a role very reminiscent of Jodie Foster's FBI agent in "The Silence of the Lambs" although Hunter's character lacks the drive and determination that made Foster's so memorable. Sigourney Weaver plays Helen Hunt, the most formidable expert on serial killers until she herself is attacked by one and develops agoraphobia which forces her into early retirement within the confines of her apartment.
Harry Connick, Jr., in a very unexpected role, convincingly plays Daryl Lee Cullum, the man who tries to kill Weaver in the opening segment. He plays the role for all its worth; with his red hair, chipped front teeth, pimply face, and Southern accent, he comes across as the Hillbilly From Hell.
William McNamara plays the copycat killer as best he can, but the script gives him too many cliche lines that sound forced and contrived. The film allows the viewer to know the identity of the copycat killer within the first half hour, so the plot cannot be driven by trying to find out who the killer is. Rather, it most work through the relationships developed between the hunter and the hunted. This could be effective, but the relationship is never fully plausible because McNamara's character and his motives are never clearly explained.
The main problem with "Copycat" is that the film itself is a copycat, and it never manages to transcend what it lifts from other films. Most notably is the camera work used to depict Weaver's phobia which is lifted directly from Hitchcock's "Vertigo." There is another scene where Weaver's being literally confined to her apartment plays a central role in a cat and mouse game where she is inside with the killer, but substitute a wheelchair and a broken leg for agoraphobia, and you have the same atmosphere as Hitchcock's classic "Rear Window."
All in all, "Copycat" is, at best, a watchable film. It is a thriller for the 90's with its strong female leads, compassionate gay friend, and serial killer who watches his victims on digitized CD-Rom and sends threatening e-mail messages that could have only been made at Industrial Light & Magic. The film tries to make up for its lacks of originality with good acting, stylish directing, and strong, mood-setting music. If you've seen a serial murder thriller before, you'll be hard pressed to find anything original in "Copycat," but it'll still make you jump a couple of times.
Reprinted with permission The Baylor Lariat