DC Sniper too little, too soon

Oct. 22, 2003, midnight | By KC Costanzo | 20 years, 7 months ago

Movie based on sniper attacks falls short

A compelling story doesn't always make for a compelling movie. In fact, sometimes a compelling story just makes for a rubbernecking-worthy train wreck of a movie to tell your friends about so that you'll have someone to shake your head with and murmur obscenities to afterward.

The USA cable television network had a compelling story and they rode it full throttle into a brick wall. Even if the idea of profiting from a shooting spree that terrorized thousands and shocked millions wasn't morally repugnant, USA's D.C. Sniper: 23 Days of Fear, a movie adaptation of the events that unfolded last year in Montgomery County, just shouldn't have gone forward.

To begin with, the network, strange as this may sound, had very little material to work with. The two snipers were, of course, unknown at the time the crimes went down, so an overriding senses of mystery and panic is left to take center stage, much more so than any participant in the investigation. The tale lacks a hero, leaving Ex-Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose, the face of the good guys on the news, as the only logical choice for a main character. However, his bumbling performances in front of the media and his limited ability to affect the course of events make Moose, played by Charles S. Dutton (A Time to Kill, Alien 3), a weak focal point for the movie.

Still, USA trudged along, and Moose was indeed made the main character. His fiery attitude behind the new cameras shows a different side of Moose than the public saw in 2002, though whether or not the depiction is accurate is anyone's guess, as Dutton has reportedly never met Moose. The two do resemble one another, though Moose looks like Dutton after going on the Subway diet. The failings of the movie really can't be placed on Dutton's shoulders, because he did all he possibly could have done with such a weak role.

County Executive Doug Duncan, portrayed by Jay O. Sanders (Glory, Angels in the Outfield), gets thrown in as a secondary main character. But his involvement in the investigation seems minimal. In the movie, Duncan is relegated to advising Moose, though his main purpose seems to be interacting with his family to show what home life has become as a result of the attacks. In this capacity, he's a dud. Duncan's family is protected by the police, so his experience would have been far different than the majority of Montgomery County residents.

Director Tom McLoughlin, the writer and director of the Friday the 13th: The Series, makes some odd decisions in the film. McLoughlin attempts to vilify the media in several scenes, incorporating the tarot card leak and other seemingly disastrous blows various news affiliates inflicted on the investigation into the plot. The idea is not unique, as many movies show the news networks as vicious, amoral organizations. However, the way he presents the idea is unique and rather two-dimensional. All the no-good, awful, rotten, mean things that, in McLoughlin's mind, the media represents are embodied by one man who pesters the police for and then leaks information. His over-the-top performance comes complete with sinister grins and an uncanny ability to make information materialize out of nowhere.

The film does take an interesting look at the relationship between John Muhammad, played by Bobby Hosea, and John Lee Malvo, played by Trent Cameron. This is the one aspect of the film that's genuinely new and interesting to watch. The movie shows Malvo as a complete subordinate to Muhammad, willing to take whatever orders his "father" gives him. The panic that crosses Malvo's face each time he feels out of control of a situation is quite believable, and Muhammad's weird mixture of fatherly pride and calculated cruelty is strangely creepy to observe.

Still, this one somewhat bright spot doesn't make up for the rest of the problems in the movie. While the various crime scenes and characters all bear a passable resemblance to the real places and people, minor errors plague the movie, sometimes making watching difficult to those who know the story well. At one point, Duncan is referred to as "mayor" despite the fact that he holds no such office.

The movie is punctuated by a horrendous concluding scene wherein Moose does his best to defend his actions, and the producers try to put a positive spin on an unspectacular ending when Moose announces the boy who got shot early on isn't going to die.

It's hard to make a movie based on a crime spree that really doesn't lend itself well to character development. It's even harder to find sympathy for a network that exploits tragedy.

D.C. Sniper: 23 Days of Fear is rated TV-14 for violence. The USA network will re-air the movie again on Friday, October 25 at 3 p.m. The official website for the movie can be found here.

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KC Costanzo. Keith "KC" Costanzo is one of the brand-spanking-new editors-in-chief of <i>Silver Chips Online</i>. His responsibilities include maintaining the journalistic integrity of the paper and making sure no one spontaneously combusts due to the stress of deadlines. KC enjoys late night frisbee games and long hours … More »

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