Empty"The Lodger" is the third film based, at least loosely, on Marie Belloc Lowndes' 1913 novel — which itself was based loosely on the unsolved Jack the Ripper murders of Victorian London — and the umpteenth film to deal with that infamous killing spree. Only in this film, writer-director David Ondaatje moves the story to contemporary West Hollywood and deconstructs the narrative into alternating levels of reality and illusion.
The film might amuse some, especially fans of Alfred Hitchcock, but is likely to annoy almost everyone else. Despite whatever allure macabre sex slayings might possess, boxoffice does not look promising for this Samuel Goldwyn release.
A writer (Simon Baker) rents a backyard cottage from a troubled woman (Hope Davis) and her abusive and frequently absent husband (Donal Logue). Meanwhile, in a parallel narrative, the film follows the efforts of a police detective (Alfred Molina) and his rookie partner (Shane West) to catch the elusive killer while the detective struggles with his own demons that include a crazy, suicidal wife (Mel Harris) and an estranged daughter (Rachael Leigh Cook).
But aha! Nothing here is quite what it appears. The landlady is on medication for mental problems, so the tenant might be a figment of her imagination. The detectives are tracking a phantom twice removed — if you can follow the logic of this — because their serial killer is imitating a serial killer several years before, since captured and executed, who was imitating Jack the Ripper in the impoverished Whitechapel district of 1888 London.
To further cloud the issue, three male characters — the lodger, detective and husband — fall under suspicion of being the killer. Oh, and the rental cottage is on Whitechapel Street. Isn't that just too cute?
Ondaatje's filmography confirms what any viewer of this film can tell: He is obsessed with Hitchcock. In this film, he frequently echoes the master, from a Bernard Herrmann-influenced musical score by John Frizzell to trick shots culled from Hitchcock movies. But the film relies less on Hitchcock's original "Lodger" and more on "Vertigo" with its theme of characters who misinterpret what they witness.
The movie devolves into a story where a viewer can't trust anything he sees. Worse, when the killer finally is revealed, any fictional probability is shattered by this nonsensical revelation.