The title of this mystery thriller, "Copycat," refers to its antagonist, a copycat serial killer, but in an unintentional way it may also remind viewers of another serial-killer mystery released the same year, "Se7en." Both movies are police procedurals, with good acting covering some rather grisly crimes. I'm sure it was mere coincidence that Regency Enterprises and New Line Cinema issued the two pictures not more than a month apart; stuff like that happens in Hollywood all the time. It's unfortunate, though, that "Copycat" should come out on the short end of any comparisons. Although it's a decent-enough picture in its own right, it really doesn't hold a candle to "Se7en."
Sigourney Weaver and Holly Hunter star in "Copycat," both of them excellent actresses putting in excellent performances, and that may be a part of the film's problem. "Copycat" can't make up its mind which of the two stars is the main character. As a result, the script switches back and forth between them, diluting the presence of each. Just when we begin to get caught up in the background and story of one character, the plot shifts over to the other one. If the two characters had been at odds with one another, a protagonist and antagonist, this might have worked. But they are both protagonists, heroines; they are on the same team, so to speak. It might have been easier for a viewer to become involved with one or the other of them if the film had just provided more time with one or the other instead of its constant changes of focus.
Anyway, the film introduces us first to Ms. Weaver's character, a San Francisco psychologist named Helen Hudson, who specializes in serial killers. Or she did until a year before the movie takes place. In an opening flashback, we see her terrorized and almost murdered by a serial killer, a psycho named Daryll Lee Cullum (Harry Connick Jr.). Although she escapes and Cullum goes to prison, the experience pushes her into a nervous breakdown. She develops agoraphobia, an abnormal fear of open spaces, and from that point on she confines herself to her apartment. Which is where we meet her in the present, locked in her rooms, never going out, communicating with the outside world through her computer and telephone, with only an assistant, Andy (John Rothman), to help her get through her life. Her life, in short, is a mess.
Enter Ms. Hunter as San Francisco Police Inspector M.J. Monahan, who, with her partner Reuben Goetz (Dermont Mulroney), is investigating a series of serial killings in the City. Monahan hopes Dr. Hudson might be able to help them on the case, and thus do the two women begin trying to solve the latest crimes together. Only, as I said earlier, they aren't really together very often because Hudson refuses to leave her apartment.
OK, so that's the setup: An agoraphobic psychologist and a female police inspector on the trail of a San Francisco murderer. Now, here are the gimmicks, the new angles that try to differentiate this movie from all the rest of the serial-killer movies out there: The murderer appears to be copying famous serial killers in the manner of his crimes, copying people like the Boston Strangler, the Hillside Stranglers, the Son of Sam, and so forth. Worse, he seems to have found out about Hudson joining the case and begins toying with her, hacking into her computer and even sneaking into her apartment. The police put a guard at Hudson's door, of course to no avail.
Despite the fine performances by everyone involved (especially Connick, by the way, who is truly scary crazy over-the-top as the demented murderer behind bars) and a couple of effectively suspenseful scenes in Hudson's apartment, director Jon Amiel ("Somersby," "Entrapment," "The Core") and screenwriters Ann Biderman and David Madsen pile on so many crime-movie clichés, the story can hardly get off the ground. I mean, alternating between the two lead characters was bad enough, but larding on the stereotypes, coincidences, exaggerations, and excesses goes too far.
The fact is, "Copycat" is a pretty routine police procedural, with only the added devices of agoraphobia, brutal copycat serial killings, and female leads to help pull it up. Like most of the films in its genre, its killer is something of a genius, always one or two or a dozen steps ahead of the police. He knows what everyone is doing, what everyone is thinking at any given time and before. The police, on the other hand, are all idiots. Even Hunter's character calls in backup in a dangerous situation and, then, wouldn't you know it, goes it alone. The prime suspect (William McNamara) is a nerdy computer geek with a creepy cellar full of dissection instruments; Inspector Monahan has a jealous ex-boyfriend on the police force (Will Patton); Dr. Hudson's assistant is gay (which seems to be only reason for the writers setting the story in San Francisco, since they certainly don't take advantage of the City's scenic beauty); Monahan's boss (J.E. Freeman) is a grump who screams at and berates everybody in sight, as all good police commanders do in the movies, etc.
About three-quarters of the way through the plot, a totally senseless act of violence occurs unrelated to the case and included, apparently, merely to put some pathos into the story line. What's that all about? "Copycat" does not get better as it goes along, defying the actors to make little more of it than yet another maniacal serial-killer-on-the-loose saga. In other words, while it's not bad, it could have been better.
The Warner video engineers use an MPEG-4/AVC codec and a single-layer BD25 to reproduce the film in high definition in its native aspect ratio, 2.40:1. However, either the transfer or the original print varies in quality from scene to scene. Sometimes the colors are bright and vivid; sometimes they're dull and veiled. Sometimes the picture is sharp and detailed; sometimes it's soft and bland. Sometimes the screen is clear and gleaming; sometimes it's vague and rough. On average, it's, well, about average.
The lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio really hasn't a lot to do, given that the soundtrack doesn't have as much going on in it as you might expect from a mystery thriller. There is a pleasant ambient bloom in the surrounds during musical passages, and there's a good, clean midrange that's well balanced with the rest of the sound spectrum. Although the side/rear speakers get little attention, there is a wide front-channel stereo spread. Other than that, frequency and dynamic ranges are about, well, again average.
The only bonus item of any consequence on the disc is an audio commentary by director Jon Amiel. If you enjoy that sort of thing, you might glean a few enlightening pieces of information from it. Beyond the commentary, there are a healthy thirty-nine scene selections; a standard-definition theatrical trailer cropped to 1.78:1; English, French, Spanish, German, and Portuguese spoken languages; French, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese subtitles; and English and German captions for the hearing impaired.
The disc comes housed in one of those flimsy Eco-cases that I'm beginning to really, really hate.
As much as I admired the acting from all of the principal players, I could never buy into the story except in a couple of suspenseful scenes. All of it seemed too commonplace to me, too much like every other serial-killer picture we've seen over the past couple of decades. Besides which, this one included so many numbskull moves by almost every character, it became more of an exercise in frustration for me than an enjoyable viewing experience. Your own mileage may vary.