Dennis Quaid, Ziyi Zhang

  2.5 out of 5 stars
  Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson

If you're familiar with the Biblical story of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, you'll probably figure out which suspect rides the pale horse of death long before Dennis Quaid's lead character crosses the finish line. Nevertheless, "Horsemen" is a crime thriller with some giddy up that features a chilling Hannibal Lecter-like performance by captivating Asian actress Ziyi Zhang.

"Horsemen" quickly gets out of the gate with Aidan Breslin (nicely ruffled and creased Dennis Quaid) being called upon to stop a group of serial killers before they strike again. The killers suspend their prey from elaborate harnesses with hooks, and like to videotape their victim's slow painful demise as they drown in their own blood. (Be forewarned. Some of the film's visceral imagery may send you galloping off to the bathroom.) As if to flaunt their sadism, as well as law enforcement's inability to catch them, the killers write "Come and See" in red paint on the walls at each murder scene. So not only must Breslin read the handwriting on the wall, he has to interpret it as well.

Breslin discovers the murderers have based based their murder spree on the Biblical prophecies written about the Four Horsemen if the Apocalypse: War, Famine, Pesilence and Death. Each of the four killer represents one of the Horsemen. While interviewing the family of one of the victims, Breslin becomes intrigued with Kristen, (a disturbing Ziyi Zhang) their quiet, seemingly innocent adopted Asian daughter. While talking privately with Breslin, Kristen confesses her role in the murders by nonchalantly showing him the fetus she tore from her stepmother. The act transforms Kristin from a grieving child into a twisted dragon lady who got even with her abusive stepfather by torturing the person he loved the most.
Questioned by Breslin in solitary confinement, Kristen lures Breslin into a co-dependant relationship; if Breslin is willing to play her mind games, she'll give him cryptic clues about the identity of her co-conspirators. Twisting her braids, smiling, speaking with child-like amusement, Kristen nonchalantly speaks of torturing her mother with cold-hearted detachment. Despite the heinous nature of her crime, Breslin remains fascinated by her allure:

I'm wondering, what do you think of me?  You thought I was just this sweet girl
who had been wronged by the world. What do you think of me now?
Breslin: I still think that.

Although Breslin is the only cop worth his pension, he's always several steps behind the killers, even after Kristen coaches him. Why? Because he's unaware of his own personal connection to the killers.

Dennis Quaid is my second favorite Doc Holiday. (Val Kilmer nailed the role. If Kirk Douglas and Victor Mature weren't so virile looking I might have rated them higher.) Quaid starved himself down to 140 pounds in order approximate Doc's tubercular physique. He coughed up a lung and mastered Doc's Georgian accent, so he knows how to immerse himself in a role. For "Horsemen" he takes on the overworked attitude of a detective who's an expert at analyzing the criminal mind but can't figure out how to communicate with his needy sons or come to grips with the sudden loss of his wife. Quaid excels when he thrust into a cat and mouse relationship with Ziyi Zhang. Their pairing brings to mind the intellectual give and take between Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling in "The Silence of the Lambs;" only there's mucho sexual tension in the air between Breslin and Kristen.

Ziyi Zhang manages to go from innocent victim to menacing cold predator within the same sentence. She initially projects herself as an obedient girl who dotes on her younger sisters, and as an outsider who's grateful to her stepfather for rescuing her from a life of uncertainty and providing her with a loving environment. She's innocent, sensual, wounded, arrogant, obtuse, damaged, and possesses half a dozen other potentially dangerous qualities. Zhang is a modern day Anna May Wong -- a beautiful puzzle, whose thick accent helps make her all the more mysterious. She's a star in China, has been labeled one of the most beautiful women in the world and cut her acting teeth in "Memoirs of a Geisha," and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." A few more roles like Kristen and Zhang will be a major star in America too.

The other actors in "Horsemen" don't come up as tall in the saddle. Veteran character actor Paul Dooley (John Shirley in "Grace Under Fire," and Cheryl's dad in "Curb Your Enthusiasm") gets into two scenes as Father Whiteleather (fire the guy who came up with that name). He has the thankless chore of telling the audience the tale of the Four Horsemen (no pun intended). Stingray (brain dead Clifton Collins) is Breslin's clueless partner, who's so dense at mastering even the simplest investigative techniques you'll wonder how he was issued a badge. Barry Shebaka Henley's character, Tuck, the unit's coroner, admits he dismissed a theory about how the murders were committed because the percentages say it couldn't possibly work. Well, the proof is lying on the cold steel examiner's table in front of you, Tuck. That kind of incompetence will either get you fired or elected to a spot on the New York State Senate. Lou Taylor Pucci, who plays Breslin's oldest son Alex, has the pasty, pouty features of a tortured teen in trouble and functions adequately in his role as secondary character. But when his character goes Norman Bates and is forced to carry the film's disturbing conclusion, he can't handle the spotlight and spits the bit.    

There are a few glaring holes in the plot you could drive a team of wild horses through. At one point, Breslin and his inept investigative idiots stumble upon the ex-wife of one of the Horsemen bound and gagged in a closet. She's alive, a witness to one of the murders. She's rescued and never heard from again. What, nobody bothered to question her about her ex-husband's whereabouts or his twisted hobby?

A ploy that falters involves the movie's sudden shift from Breslin's point of view to that of the third Horsemen, Cory (whiny Patrick Fugit, in need of a horse tranquilizer). We don't even know Cory exists until he suddenly appears on screen to settle a score with his homophobic brother, Taylor (Eric Balfour, Milo Pressman in "24"). Cory and Taylor are thrust into the action like bodies falling through the trap door of a gallows. Shoehorning Cory and Taylor's revealing scenes into the film is a way too convenient method of wrapping things up. It's like somebody told the director he was running out of time so he'd better cheat and let the audience see who the killers are. We've watched Quaid and his Keystone Cops as they've investigated the murders an inch at a time, and since they're too slow to find the killers on their own -- boom, here's your answer, kids.

There are two reasons to watch "Horsemen": Dennis Quaid and Ziyi Zhang. The film gallops to a cockeyed conclusion that's part famine, pestilence and death, but if you're looking for a slightly bent psychological thriller that'll test your gag reflexes, then saddle up.

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