Chris Rock is a man of enormous talent, enough money to do whatever he wants professionally, and the clout to do so. This is why we have the puckishly trenchant documentary about race and beauty standards, GOOD HAIR, and the long-running television series, Everybody Hates Chris. Alas, it’s also why, as star and one of the executive producers, we have SPIRAL: FROM THE BOOK OF SAW, a grisly excrescence of tedious writing and poorly recycled ideas. Not to be confused with the actual SAW franchise, which had its own artistic issues as it took its one admittedly interesting idea and frittered it away in sequels of diminishing returns, this is a reboot of sorts with dreams of being just as franchise worthy. Some dreams needs to be quashed.
Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), the original player of sadistic games of torture and death, is himself dead as we jump right in with another of those games, this one a de-tonguing for reasons of poetic justice. The camera lingers lovingly on the wiggly pink organ as our hapless victim is given his choice between a mute life or a messy, albeit quick, death. Jump to Zeke Banks (Rock), suiting up to rob a drug dealer while dissing FORREST GUMP to his companions in similar garb. It may the one redeeming item in this otherwise bleak waste of time as he explains why there was no sequel while also making some salient critical points about the plot. The viewer would be wise to stop right here. There will be nothing better, and a great deal that is much, much worse.
Viz to wit, Rock is actually a police detective, but one that plays by his own rules. He also works alone, until his latest escapade results in punishment in the form of being paired off with a callow rookie, William Schenk (Max Minghella) who was top of his class at the academy. Schenk is starry-eyed about being a detective and even more starry-eyed about being Banks’ partner. No amount of insults can wipe that dreamy smile off his cherubic face, neither does the mess on the tracks that was a train hit-and-run, which is their first case.
From there, we are treated to a series of inventively gruesome torture scenarios involving a Jigsaw copycat targeting cops. Not just any cops, only the dirty ones who have evaded the criminal justice system, but not Jigsaw’s umbrage and, apparently, endless free time to devise the elaborate mechanisms in which to ensnare his victims. Punctuating the executions and muddled police procedural, body parts are delivered to Banks in boxes of the same blue color of a luxury purveyor of jewelry; Banks’ delivers a bitter dialectic to his new partner about why cop marriages fail; and we explore the fraught relationship he enjoys with his father (Samuel L. Jackson), the former head of the department.
The body count grows along with the ci-mentioned body parts, back stories of police corruption and father-son anguish are filled in, and eventually the current head of the department (Marisol Nichols) continuously knits her perfectly shaped brows before eventually stripping down to her tank top in the 90+ degree heat of a July summer in a modern city without air-conditioning. Anywhere.
The perfunctory attempt to swath this exercise in overtones of psychology or social commentary fails to justify any of this. The slick neo-noir idiom essayed by all concerned fares better, with Rock most certainly carrying off the part of an anti-hero who has enemies everywhere with style and grit. He, like Jackson and Minghella, is so much better than the material in which he finds himself that it must count as a misdemeanor at the very least in some applicable criminal code.
By the end of SPIRAL, complicated killing machines have become as dull as the twist that we all knew was coming. As I said before, some dreams need to be quashed.