Someday, Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson may again find themselves in the same movie. Spiral: From the Book of Saw hints at what that movie might be, a story full of cutting banter and shrewd observation. But hints is all we get from Spiral, the ninth movie in the proudly revolting Saw franchise.
Spiral has the look and feel of typically gritty police drama. But the movie's bloody acorn doesn't fall far enough from the Saw tree to refresh a series that has become a genre unto itself.
Rock portrays detective Zeke Banks, a cop scorned by other cops because he once turned in his dirty-cop partner.
Jackson portrays Marcus, Zeke's father and a highly regarded former police chief.
Early on, a reluctant Zeke is assigned to work with a rookie partner (Max Minghella). Zeke's annoyance with Minghella's character isn't personal. As a victim of abuse from his fellow officers, Zeke doesn't want to work with anyone.
The movie introduces another sadistic villain (unseen for most of the movie), a psychopath who specializes in torturing and murdering cops who've indulged their baser impulses.
True to its Saw heritage, the movie creates sequences that are difficult to watch without wincing or turning away entirely. The villain creates elaborate devices that inflict horrifying forms of pain.
The murderer gives his targets a chance to save themselves. A cop who routinely lied can trigger a mechanism that will cut out his tongue. Should he decline, the terrified officer will be smashed to a bloody pulp by an oncoming subway train.
Amazing how in Spiral, murderous devices always seem to work. No short circuits. No design failures --- and no relation to the mechanical woes most of us occasionally encounter.
As Capt. Angie Garza, a cop who still believes in Zeke, Marisol Nichols scores one of the few significant female roles.
Director Darren Lynn Bousman, who directed three previous Saw movies, creates a convincing cop atmosphere -- at least as we know it from other amped-up movies. But at a time when police behavior has garnered more than the usual attention, Spiral doesn't exactly further the conversation.
Unapologetically committed to his portrayal and to genre demands, Rock again shows that he doesn't need to be confined to comedy. In Spiral, though, he can’t escape the downward pull of two worn-out genres: pulpy police procedurals and gag-inducing horror.