Here’s something you don’t see often: Milla Jovovich not battling zombies, and not wielding some impossibly menacing piece of artillery. In “Faces in the Crowd,” we see Jovovich in a rare mode of vulnerability and fragility (in spite of those muscular shoulders) — even giving the impression that she buys aroma candles when life upsets her, and goes out for gluten-free pizza afterwards.
Is this where Jovovich is heading? If so, as a fan I feel like I should be there for her and commend her on this new career move. On the other hand, I want to tear into the screen to hand her a machine gun and a spaghetti-strap tank top so she can go back to being her proper “Resident Evil” Jovovich self. Ah, this fan thing — it’s complicated.
But not nearly as complicated as the jargon thrown around in “Faces in the Crowd.” Don’t be misled by the simplistic title: Many of the lines in this movie sound like they’re pulled straight from a medical textbook. If you’ve never heard the term “prosopagnosia” before, well, you have now.
In the movie, a doctor explains that this is “known to the layman” as “face blindness,” the inability to distinguish or identify the faces of loved ones — or even one’s own reflection in the mirror. This layman had no idea such a condition existed, but the doctor in the movie insists that it exists, so I’ll take his word for it.
“Faces in the Crowd” isn’t about this affliction, or even about Jovovich, but centers around a serial killer who goes by the name of Tear Jerk Jack — so called because of his habit of weeping over the horribly mutilated corpses of his victims. This seems like an unfortunate habit. No sane killer has time to stick around and cry at the crime scene, and what about that “CSI” iron rule of never leaving behind body fluids? But TJJ has one-upped the police on many occasions and remains on the loose throughout most of the story.
This is where Jovovich comes in. She plays Anna, a schoolteacher who witnesses Tear Jerk Jack doing his thing one night, falls from a bridge trying to escape and sustains a head injury. When she wakes up in the hospital, she is diagnosed with prosopagnosia.
The police are ticked off because she’s the only eye-witness they have, and she can’t recall what Tear Jerk Jack looks like at all. Her live-in boyfriend, Bryce (Michael Shanks), is worried and unwilling to believe there is no immediate cure. Understandably, Anna feels lonely and pressured and misanthropic, all at the same time.
A homicide detective by the name of Sam (Julian McMahon) steps in to befriend her and his words heal her wounded heart. In the meantime, Tear Jerk Jack strikes again, and unless Anna can recall his facial features, it seems more women’s bodies are going to be found bearing his tear stains. Yuck.
If all of this sounds drearily predictable, it is my regrettable job to tell you that “Faces in the Crowd” walks that well-paved road of serial-killer suspense with a slow, deliberate tread. It could be that director Julien Magnat was standing in his living room with a medical encyclopedia in one hand and “Se7en” in the other when the skies parted, thunder rolled and a voice from heaven told him to make a movie.
Magnant seems to have had no masterplan; it’s as though he got the cast together (including a befuddled, strangely purposeless Marianne Faithfull), got the ball rolling and then went out for drinks. In some scenes Anna looks wildly uncomprehending: That’ll be Jovovich cursing the day she took a pen and signed on the dotted line.
Then again, Jovovich does get to have her fun, do her hair and appear in an array of minidresses that recall Jean Paul Gaultier in the late 1990s, so at least this isn’t a total loss. Besides, her Anna turns out to be a sexually capricious little minx: As soon as she gets out of the hospital she embarks on a relationship with Sam, goes back to Bryce for five minutes and then moves out to dally with strangers here and there.
Anna’s air-headed behavior makes you wonder how she ever landed a teaching job and whether she and the tear-shedding killer could actually be made for each other. At one point, Bryce says in complete frustration, “Dumb this down for me, will you please?” Say no more, Bryce. Done already.