"The Bone Collector" -- a gory, gloomy, suspense-deficient thriller about a deranged killer on the loose in New York City -- asks viewers to swallow an endless series of contrivances. By the time all is said and done, the ridiculous plot maneuvers have piled up almost as high as the title villain's storehouse of ghoulish human mementos.
For starters, director Phillip Noyce ("Clear and Present Danger," "Patriot Games") would have us believe that a cute, street-smart beat cop like Amelia Donaghy (Angelina Jolie) could overnight be transformed into an ace forensics specialist. On the eve of her appointment to a cushy desk job in the youth-services department, Donaghy responds to a child 's report of a strange discovery, and stumbles onto a creepy crime scene: A hand is sticking out of a pile of gravel and a woman 's wedding ring is perched atop a finger that's been skinned to the bone. Once Donaghy begins digging, a man's body is revealed beneath the rubble. Thinking on her feet, she rounds up a disposable camera to photograph the corpse, then bravely stands in front of a train to prevent if from disturbing the evidence.
Cue the arrival of Lincoln Rhyme (Denzel Washington), a handsome, wise-cracking master criminologist and former NYPD detective who was nearly killed in the line of duty four years earlier. A celebrated author of numerous textbooks in his field, Rhyme has lost the use of his arms and legs and is confined to a bed. But he can still talk and use his fingers, and he has a multimillion-dollar, voice-activated communications system and database at his disposal.
Naturally, detectives Paulie Sellitto (Ed O'Neill of TV's "Married With Children") and Kenny Solomon (Mike McGlone of "She's the One" and "The Brothers McMullen") call on the expertise of old pal Rhyme, who in turn decides that Donaghy ought to leapfrog the ranks and become chief investigator on the case. The celebrated master sleuth with a useless bag of bones for a body is in hot pursuit of a criminal who collects bones -- extracted from living humans -- for fun. Feel the irony.
A bright but timid cop with a sad secret in her past, Donaghy becomes Rhyme's arms and legs, providing a physical connection to crime scenes he would investigate himself, if only he could. "I'll walk you through collecting the evidence," the mentor tells the eager young student by radio-controlled headphone, as if this were a task that could be taught in three easy steps.
At one point, Donaghy is ready to flee her assignment. Who, after all, wants to slice the wrists off a corpse just to make sure that fingerprints can properly be collected? But the all-seeing, all-knowing Rhyme -- who conveniently has electronic access to everyone's personnel files -- cuts to the heart of her problem with some clued-in amateur psychotherapy.
Working from Jeffery Deaver's original novel, Noyce and screenwriter Jeremy Iacone apparently intend their movie to be as edgy and disturbing as "Seven" or "The Silence of the Lambs." But "The Bone Collector" shares only the most basic similarities with those superior films: Time is running out, and more corpses will start showing up unless the good guys can make sense out of clues freely that are distributed by the killer.
The able Washington is left on his own to make something heroic of a convoluted, over-reaching character who's drawn as something of a Zen master of forensics. And Jolie, such a bombshell in "Gia" and Pushing Tin, here emerges as a bland, practically sexless ingenue. Yawn.
Luiz Guzman gets off a few funny one-liners as Eddie Ortiz, a savvy lab tech. And Michael Rooker is good as Captain Howard Cheney, an incompetent bureaucrat who fights to protect his turf from the invasion of the know-it-all Rhyme.
In her role as Thelma, the supercop's sassy, attentive assistant, Queen Latifah probably deserves an MVP award as the film's best supporting comedienne, using her imposing physicality and expert timing to enliven every scene she's in. The rapper and talk-show host (most recently seen in Living Out Loud and Sphere) deserves a leading role, but hers is a small, memorable treasure in an otherwise forgettable collection of nonsense items.