Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to have seen too many Serial Killer movies. Take Clint Eastwood’s “Blood Work” for example. It’s a decent enough Serial Killer movie, with some more of the nice, competent direction Eastwood is known for — very good, but not overly slick. But it’s also pretty standard stuff for a Serial Killer movie, and after having seen hundreds before like it, I guessed these things 20 minutes into the film: the identity of the killer, the killer’s reasoning, and I also knew why it is that retired FBI agent Terry McCaleb (Clint Eastwood) has found himself with a new heart after 2 long years of waiting. How do I know all of this stuff? Am I the smartest man in the world? No. I’ve just seen way too many Serial Killer movies, that’s all.
Having known the answer that the movie will “reveal” to me with about 20 minutes to go, I was forced to sit and wait for the inevitable conclusion without any real enthusiasm. If you were wondering, you need at least 20 minutes for the “Eureka!” moment, followed by the confrontation, followed by the serial killer explaining the how’s, why’s, and when’s of his crimes, and then a final mano-a-mano confrontation between cop and serial killer. The screenplay by Brian Helgeland (“Payback”) is very competent, but it’s just not very original, or clever.
The film is probably too by the numbers in everything it does, from the opening when we see McCaleb in pursuit of a serial killer suspect who escapes, but not before inducing McCaleb into a career-ending stroke. Two years later, McCaleb has a fresh new heart that has given him new lease on life, but McCaleb soon discovers that the heart belongs to a young murder victim. And soon the victim’s sister (Wanda De Jesus) has appeared on McCaleb’s boat to ask for his assistance in tracking down her sister’s killer as a sort of return favor for the heart. McCaleb reluctantly agrees, and soon the same serial killer he had been chasing 2 years earlier has resurfaced, wanting to play more “games” with McCaleb.
The retired cop comes out of retirement to solve that elusive last case is an old Cop Movie clich’. Actually, “Blood Work” is filled with Cop Movie cliché, most notably the Professional Jerk played by Paul Rodriguez. A Professional Jerk, in case you didn’t know, is a character invented by the screenwriter with the single express purpose of antagonizing the hero as he goes about saving the world — or in this case, solving the crime. The PJ has no real reason to exist other to make an ass out of himself and hinder the hero, and in the final analysis, the PJ is unnecessary and his existence signals the presence of a lazy screenwriter.
If you could survive Paul Rodriguez’s wildly unimaginative Worst Cop of the Century act, “Blood Work” is worth a look, mostly because it offers up some good performances by the other cast members. Wanda De Jesus plays McCaleb’s love interest, and does it very nicely. Tina Lifford shows up as a Sheriff’s Detective who helps McCaleb get access to police material. Jeff Daniels also stars as an out-of-work bum who lives on a boat in the same marina as McCaleb, and offers up some comedic bits.
The point is, if you pay enough attention to “Blood Work” and if you’ve seen enough Serial Killer movies, then you know what to look for. As a result, little hints and clues that the film throws at us becomes magnified, and you begin to question everyone’s motive. To be honest, I was a little surprised that Wanda De Jesus’ character turned out to be legit. I was expecting her role to be magnified by movie’s end, but that was a wrong guess on my part. See? I don’t know everything after all. (Personally, I’m shocked.)
Beyond the lack of originality or any real mystery, there are plenty of other things to enjoy about “Blood Work”. The noticeable mortality that hangs over the head of former FBI agent McCaleb is a nice addition, and also a nod to real life. After all, director/star Clint Eastwood is in his ’70s, and the film probably knew it couldn’t have Eastwood doing a lot of the things he used to do just, say, 10 years ago. Our hero is not only old, but he’s weak and unable to walk for more than a few yards without wheezing. As a result there’s more impact to McCaleb’s relationship with Wanda De Jesus and Tina Lifford.
“Blood Work” isn’t all bad; it’s just not that great. But if you enjoy a competent thriller, competently directed and acted (with the exception of Paul Rodriguez), and competently written (again, with the exception of the Paul Rodriguez character), then “Blood Work” is for you.
Clint Eastwood (director) / Michael Connelly (novel), Brian Helgeland (screenplay)
CAST: Clint Eastwood …. Terry McCaleb
Jeff Daniels …. Buddy Noone
Anjelica Huston …. Dr. Bonnie Fox
Wanda De Jesus …. Graciella Rivers