The Zodiac

(2006) * 1/2 Unrated
92 min. ThinkFilm. Director: Alexander Bulkley. Cast: Robin Tunney, Philip Baker Hall, Justin Chambers, Brad Henke, Rory Culkin.

The Zodiac—not to be confused with David Fincher's upcoming Zodiac—is one of those docudramas that changes names less for protection of privacy than for freedom to fictionalize. But given the unsolved nature of the Zodiac case—a serial-murder spree that rocked the San Francisco Bay Area— The Zodiac is doomed to lack closure. That'd be alright if director Alexander Bulkley and his co-writer brother Kelley Bulkeley (yes, they spell their names differently) offered anything in the way of compensation, which, sadly, they don't.

Justin Chambers of TV's Grey's Anatomy plays callow Vallejo police sergeant Matt Parish. Naturally, when the Zodiac Killer consumes Parish's attention, wife Laura (Robin Tunney) and son Johnny (Rory Culkin) feel neglected, leading to marital spats and Johnny wandering freely around his dad's police station and leafing through crime-scene photos. Worse, Bulkley tries too hard to creep us out with bogus scares built around the Parish family.

Since scenes such as these qualify The Zodiac as true-crime lite, the reproduced murder scenes come across as accurate but exploitative. What, after all, is the point of the film? Bulkley lacks the skill to bring any themes into focus, except the passing subversion of Parish telling his son, "I'm going to catch this guy. I'm going to get him. I promise you." The cast—which also includes Philip Baker Hall as the police captain and William Mapother as an opportunistic reporter—is above the material, and certainly Chambers' star won't rise on this dialogue (Parish implores a victim's mother, "Help me. Help me help you").

An eye-rolling allusion to The Most Dangerous Game compares unfavorably to Bulkley's workmanlike and boring film. In the end, the Bulk(e)ly brothers repeat The Zodiac's famous quotation "I am waiting for a good movie about me" with an ironic lack of self-reflection.

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