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Murder by Numbers Reviews

Two spoiled teenagers decide to commit a perfect murder, and one deeply flawed cop vows to trip them up in this glossy, less-than-compelling thriller about the darkness in the human heart. Everyone thinks San Benito, Calif., high school seniors Richard Haywood (Ryan Gosling) and Justin Pendleton (Michael Pitt, styled to look uncannily like convicted killer Damien Echols, whose case was documented in the 1996 film PARADISE LOST) hate each other: Richard, after all, is a rich, smart, chic and popular A-teen, while Justin is an insecure, bookish nerd. But they're secret best friends, bound by a none-too-subtle homoerotic attraction and a pop-Nietzschean pact to achieve freedom by committing a perfect murder. And after months of research and heady theorizing, they finally act on their epater le bourgeois impulses. (True crime buffs will recognize the shadow of 1920s intellectual thrill-killers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb looming over this conceit.) When the strangled corpse of Oliva Lake (Krista Carpenter) is found by a stream, the case falls to hard-drinking, sharp-tongued detective Cassie Mayweather (Sandra Bullock) and her new partner, Sam Kennedy (Ben Chaplin), new to homicide from vice. The police carefully follow the clues Justin and Richard have planted, which lead directly to high school janitor and part-time pot dealer Ray (Chris Penn). But Cassie senses that something's wrong; the clues add up too neatly and she gets a bad vibe from Richard and Justin. Unfortunately, like her namesake Cassandra, Cassie's words fall on deaf ears; everyone thinks she's too personally involved in the case, too biased by some deep dark secret (a secret just about everyone seems to know) in her own past to assess things rationally. Will she be able to tame her demons in time to keep the smug little sociopaths from getting away with murder? While it's commendable that Sandra Bullock (who also executive produced) is looking for acting challenges, she's a liability in a character-driven thriller built around a deeply damaged protagonist like Cassie. Bullock has the motions down, but her broad, open face betrays every attempt to convey Cassie's guarded bitterness and defensive rigidity. Barbet Schroeder is an erratic director whose best films, notably REVERSAL OF FORTUNE (1990) and OUR LADY OF THE ASSASSINS (2000), are interspersed with blandly efficient thrillers like this one: There's nothing blatantly wrong with it (except perhaps the red-assed baboon ex machina), but it's 100% shock-free and coasts to a formulaic conclusion.