This review was written for the theatrical release of "Fracture." 

Gregory Hoblit's "Fracture" is a movie of slick surfaces, smart dialogue and intricate, chesslike maneuvers that sees its characters perform a dance of obsession and death around a "perfect murder." It doesn't have enough psychological weight to support its rich style, however, and its perfect murder is so imperfectly conceived and executed that discussions after the lights come up will undoubtedly focus on the many plot holes. The chief antagonists are old pro Anthony Hopkins and up-and-coming newcomer Ryan Gosling, so it's fun to watch the two actors have a go at one another. The movie entertains, but it's a shallow entertainment where you have no rooting interest in the outcome.

"Fracture" plays mostly to an older crowd, though Gosling might attract younger viewers. New Line should see average to above-average grosses for the first two weeks with this sleek Los Angeles-set thriller before it takes its place on video shelves next to such courtroom thrillers as "Jagged Edge" and, yes, Hoblit's own "Primal Fear." A curiosity for film buffs is that Hoblit has essentially remade his own debut feature.

The antagonists already are in motion as the movie begins. Hopkins' Ted Crawford apparently is a rich aeronautical genius and CEO with a love for precision and Rube Goldberg machines, a beautiful trophy wife (Embeth Davidtz) and a luxurious lifestyle. He dashes out of his office and heads immediately to the hotel where his wife is conducting an adulterous affair. He sneaks into the hotel room the lovers have so conveniently vacated for the swimming pool, does something in that room -- you know this will be important later -- then races to his polished modern home to await his wife's return. Moments after she arrives, he shoots her point blank in the face.

Gosling's assistant D.A. Willy Beachum also is in a hurry, having just landed a lucrative job with a downtown law firm. He rushes to wind up his affairs in the D.A.'s Office, appear at a charity benefit, get cozy with his lovely new boss (Rosamund Pike) and select the design for his plush new office. He's so rushed that he appears at Ted's arraignment in a tuxedo for that night's event.

The point here, of course, is Willy is not paying attention to details when he agrees to prosecute Ted as his last case for the D.A. Since Ted has dictated and signed a confession to attempted murder -- his wife lies comatose in a hospital -- so what can go wrong?

Predictably, plenty. Indeed, the case falls apart almost immediately. The alleged murder weapon, a gun, has never fired a bullet. And because the first cop on the scene, Detective Rob Nunally (Billy Burke), is none other than the victim's lover -- he somehow never learned her last name or identity -- the confession is tossed out. Leaving Willy with no evidence unless he can find the real murder weapon. It never turns up.

Even this brief synopsis indicates how coldly mechanical Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers' script is, like those intriguing but pointless contraptions Ted keeps in his home. Everything neatly slots into place in Ted's cunning murder scheme. Of course, you have to accept that he can absolutely predict how everyone will behave, starting with his wife's cop lover and a judge and assistant D.A., who allow Ted to pick his prosecuting attorney. Sure, criminal defendants pick their own prosecuting attorney all the time.

But how can Ted predict that Willy will jeopardize his corporate law career to pursue him? Nothing in his psychological profile fits that act: Willy reeks of greed, ambition and arrogance -- but not stupidity. Even if his "weakness" is that he hates to lose, this would never trump his burning desire to become a corporate legal eagle.

The movie has thrown in a bit of class consciousness. Willy is a poor boy whose head swims in the high altitude of downtown corporate suites. Give the filmmakers credit for doing nothing to make this slickster lawyer the least bit likable. Conversely, Ted is a formula villain, but Hopkins adds actorish touches to give him enough backbone and foul flesh to make him an amusing villain. He really should get away with his crime if you can get past the fact he coldly put a bullet into his wife's brain.

There might be bits and pieces missing here in the final edit. Willy and his new boss have no sooner shaken hands then they are in bed. Where did that come from? And what purpose does it serve, anyway?

Perhaps to distract viewers from such shortcomings, Hoblit takes you on a whirlwind tour of Los Angeles high life, from sleek executive suites, the Disney Concert Hall and the Standard Hotel Downtown's rooftop lounge to the Miramar Hotel at Santa Monica Beach and Ted's exquisite estate. Sometimes cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau uses extreme wide angle lenses to take it all in. The film's composers, Mychael Danna and Jeff Danna, provide ominous music in the background to give things an edgy quality. The film does have its own compulsive drive, but the characters never make much sense.

New Line Cinema
Castle Rock Entertainment
Director: Gregory Hoblit
Screenwriters: Daniel Pyne, Glenn Gers
Story: Daniel Pyne
Producer: Charles Weinstock
Executive producers: Liz Glotzer, Hawk Koch, Toby Emmerich
Director of photography: Kramer Morgenthau
Production designer: Paul Eads
Music: Mychael Danna, Jeff Danna
Co-producer: Louise Rosner
Costume designer: Elisabetta Baraldo
Editor: David Rosenbloom
Ted Crawford: Anthony Hopkins
Willy Beachum: Ryan Gosling
Joe Lobruto: David Straithairn
Nikki Gardner: Rosamund Pike
Jennifer: Embeth Davidtz
Rob Nunally: Billy Burke
Flores: Cliff Curtis
Running time -- 112 minutes
MPAA rating: R