'Hangman': Film Review

Hangman Still 1 - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Saban Films/Lionsgate
This formulaic thriller is m_di_c_e.

Al Pacino, Karl Urban and Brittany Snow star in Johnny Martin's thriller about cops pursuing a serial killer who leaves clues in the style of the children's word game.

Plenty of former A-list actors — including Nicolas Cage and Antonio Banderas — have succumbed to the lure of easy paychecks in direct-to-video thrillers produced by Saban Films. But it's particularly disappointing to see Al Pacino sink to those depths. The actor who blazed through '70s cinema in such iconic films as The Godfather, Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon deserves a better twilight to his career than Hangman, a routine thriller which makes a typical episode of Criminal Minds look sophisticated.

Set in the fictional Southern city of Monroe — a locale that provides Pacino the opportunity to speak with an outlandish, unidentifiable accent — the story concerns a string of murders committed by a serial killer who, you guessed it, provides clues via the titular word game. Because in the movies, madmen don't simply kill, they like to have fun doing it.

Investigating the murders, which take place at the alarming rate of one every 24 hours, are detectives Will Ruiney (Karl Urban) and Ray Archer (Pacino). The latter has been called out of retirement after the pair's badge numbers were found carved near the first victim's body. Like all fictional cops, Ruiney is emotionally haunted, in this case by the unsolved murder of his wife, while Archer is the sort of driven figure who, when asked if he got some rest, ominously declares, "I don't rest…ever."

Joining the pair is New York Times reporter Christi Davies (Brittany Snow) who, when Ruiney angrily confronts her, retorts, "Sir, I've been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize!" Her response when he asks about a scar on her forehead provides further evidence of the cheesiness of Michael Caissie and Charles Huttinger's screenplay: "Sometimes, finding out the truth leaves scars," she points out, sounding like the worst greeting card ever.

Pursuing the killer with the intrepid female journalist in tow, the detectives find themselves in one dangerous situation after another, including Ruiney trying — and failing — to rescue a victim who's been strung up in the path of a roaring train. The police procedural plot proves tiresome, with the influence of far better films like Seven becoming increasingly obvious. That the hard-boiled cops would tolerate the constant presence of the reporter, not to mention allow her to take part when they're chasing the suspect, completely beggars belief. The resolution of the mystery, which involves the sort of convoluted backstory that budding screenwriters should be taught to avoid, proves more laughable than satisfying.

Despite his extensive action movie experience, director Johnny Martin (Vengeance:  A Love Story) fails to invest the violence with much suspense. He also doesn't elicit the best work from his performers, with Urban and Snow unable to overcome their characters' stereotypical aspects. To his credit, Pacino doesn't simply walk through the film. He invests his burnt-out cop with world-weary gravitas, although it's hard not to wonder what he's thinking as he goes through his formulaic paces. Maybe he still just loves to act, no matter how misbegotten the vehicle.

Production companies: Patriot Pictures, Cheyenne Enterprises
Distributor: Saban Films
Cast: Al Pacino, Karl Urban, Brittany Snow, Joe Anderson, Sarah Shahi
Director: Johnny Martin
Screenwriters: Michael Caissie, Charles Huttinger
Producers: Arnold Rifkin, Michael Mendelsohn
Executive producers: William V. Bromiley, Ness Saban, Shanan Becker, Jonathan Saba, Johnny Martin, Etchie Stroh
Director of photography: Larry Blanford
Production designer: Eric Weiler
Costume designer: Lorraine Coppin
Music: Frederik Wiedmann
Editor: Jeffrey Steinkamp
Casting: Rita Harrell, Jen Kelley

Rated R, 98 minutes