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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before

by Kaori Shoji
Nadie Conoce a Nadie
Rating: * * Japanese Title: PuzzleDirector: Mateo Gil Running time: 108 minutes Language: SpanishOpens June 30 at Cine La Sept in Yurakcho

At this point in time, we, as an audience, have learned to expect things from the psycho-killer genre: elaborate mutilation; a hip and queasy soundtrack; and motives that hinge on repressed childhoods and/or too many video games. So when you’re confronted with the story of a band of computer-wiz types attempting to systematically destroy their city, much in the same manner one would destroy a Sim City in some elaborate PlayStation scenario, you don’t exactly hold your breath. Rather, you’re tempted to sit back in a plush chair, stick a cigar in your mouth and say in a bored, Hollywood drawl: “OK. Surprise me.”

Natalia Verbeke and Eduardo Noriega in “Nadie Conoce a Nadie”

Sadly, however, it just doesn’t happen. “Nadie Conoce a Nadie” (“Nobody Knows Anybody,” released here as “Puzzle”) is a Spanish psycho-thriller that, had it come out a decade ago, would have elicited gasps and gulps and met with what we in the business call “wide critical acclaim.” As it stands, this is a work that came too late for the party. All the others, movies like “Seven,” “Silence of the Lambs” and “The Bone Collector,” have already come and gone. We have lost the capacity to be surprised by criminals who live in a virtual world of puzzles and games. Or in this case, criminals who get their rocks off thinking up puzzles based on gothic motifs. It’s gotten to the point where you wish you could be a gum-chomping Bernadette Peters for the pleasure of saying out loud in the theater: “You think we haven’t seen this awreddy?”

Still, “Nadie” yields some exotic moments. The incredibly blue Seville sky, the streets dazzling in sunlight, the dark and sinister festivities of Holy Week. And it stars the Spanish prince-in-residence, Eduardo Noriega. Consider that Tom Cruise saw him in “Open Your Eyes” and immediately bought the rights for a remake. One likes to imagine Noriega when he heard this news — smiling briefly with the side of his mouth, taking a short sip from his gin glass and saying “So?”

He makes you imagine things like that. So it’s fitting that here Noriega plays a self-centered, self-absorbed character called Simon.

Though talented as a writer, Simon prefers to write crossword puzzles for the Sunday paper. Simon is always being encouraged to grow up and make commitments, most of all by girlfriend Ariadna (Paz Vega), but he brushes her off. Then one night, he returns to find that someone has been tampering with his computer. There’s a strange logo on the screen saver. Minutes later, he receives a phone call telling him to write next week’s puzzle so that the answer to 6 across is “adversario (adversary).”

Simon confides this to his roommate, “Frog” (Jordi Molla), a teacher at a nearby college, who tells him the whole thing is probably a prank. Still, Simon puts in “adversario” and waits to see what happens. Come Sunday, a church is attacked with poison gas and Simon is one of the key witnesses. Spooked, he talks to reporter Maria (Natalia Verbeke). She introduces him to a photographer who took pictures of the incident. In one of the prints, Simon sees a scrap of paper pinned to one of the victims. On it is the same strange logo placed on his PC.

For the first time, Simon comes out of his cocoon and decides to combat this mysterious conspiracy. Maria (who has obviously fallen for him) offers to help. In the meantime, Simon finds a manuscript in which Frog confesses to having killed his father when he was 15. On the cover of this autobiography is the logo, which turns out to be the sign of devil worship. Simon confronts Frog, who denies any implication. Immediately after this, the second and third murder attacks happen in other churches, and the police start looking for Simon, who had been present at the scene in all cases.

“Nadie” is writer/director Mateo Gil’s feature film debut. Gil had written the screenplay for “Open Your Eyes” and immediately got his name on the map of Spanish cinema. Apparently, when he got the offer to direct his own film, he refused many times, then caved in. His reluctance and indecision are reflected in this picture and in Simon, who spends most of the time being bewildered, overwhelmed and generally pissed off. All these things Noriega does to perfection, but there’s a limit to how much you can watch him agonize in Seville cafes. Pretty soon, you start looking at the plot. And pretty soon, you realize that “X-Files” could probably do this better.