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Columbus Circle

D: George Gallo / 82m

Cast: Selma Blair, Amy Smart, Jason Lee, Beau Bridges, Kevin Pollak, Giovanni Ribisi, Jason Antoon, Robert Guillaume

Abigail Clayton (Blair) lives alone in her penthouse apartment overlooking Columbus Circle, and has done so for nearly twenty years. She communicates with only two people: in person with her physician and long-time family friend Raymond Fontaine (Bridges), and by note with concierge Klandermann (Pollak). Her quiet, ordered life is disrupted following the death of her neighbour. The investigating detective, Frank Giardello (Ribisi), isn’t convinced it’s the accidental death it looks like. He speaks to Abigail (much to her dislike); she in turn alerts Fontaine who reassures her that Giardello’s talking to her was just routine.

Abigail attempts to buy her neighbour’s apartment to further maintain her privacy but to her dismay a couple move in shortly afterward. Charles (Lee) and Lillian (Smart) seem like a young, prosperous, happy couple but one night, Abigail overhears an argument the couple have in the corridor. The argument becomes violent and Lillian is hit by her husband. Lillian’s cries for help prompt Abigail to do something she would never have thought possible: help the injured woman. Once inside Abigail’s apartment, Lillian makes excuses for Charles’s behaviour before she falls asleep. The next morning she thanks Abigail for her help and the beginnings of a friendship are established.

Meanwhile, Giardello’s investigation reveals a link between Abigail’s neighbour and Fontaine. When Giardello visits him, Fontaine lets slip that he knows Abigail as well. The detective begins to suspect that Abigail isn’t who she seems to be, and is probably wealthy heiress Justine Waters, who disappeared on her eighteenth birthday and hasn’t been seen since.

Abigail and Lillian grow closer, while Charles becomes more and more aggressive in his behaviour. One evening, he and Klandermann are in the elevator together when the concierge remarks that Charles is familiar to him but he can’t place where they might have met. Charles thinks it unlikely but Klandermann is convinced that he’ll remember. When he does, it brings to light a conspiracy that involves the search for a missing heiress…

Columbus Circle - scene

Making out like a Hitchcockian thriller, Columbus Circle has a basic plot that seems clever at the outset but which quickly abandons plausibility in favour of a more tired and derivative approach, and wraps things up so awkwardly that it makes you wonder if co-scripters Pollak and Gallo really had an ending in the first place. With any thriller there’s an accepted – indeed, expected – amount of suspension of disbelief, and Columbus Circle is no different in this respect, but sometimes it’s a matter of how many times that suspension is required that defeats everything. No matter how much good will a movie generates during its running time, sometimes it’s never enough. And so it proves here.

Abigail’s reclusive lifestyle is explained via a mix of flashbacks and exposition, and is used as the basis for her helping Lillian. So far, so good. But when we see Lillian playing amateur therapist and helping Abigail down the corridor in an attempt to conquer her fear of leaving her apartment, then things begin to tumble downhill with ever increasing speed. And even later still, when the movie requires Abigail to leave the safety of her apartment altogether, she does so without a backward glance. It’s moments like these that prompt the question, why make Abigail a recluse in the first place? For ultimately it doesn’t matter. Nor does the issue of whether or not she’s really a missing heiress (something the movie gives up quite early on). What Columbus Circle does, and with a clumsiness that does itself no favours, is to take a fairly run-of-the-mill scenario and then try to make it more intriguing by having its lead character driven by a deep-rooted phobia – which it then ignores/drops/abandons in order to provide the movie with a “satisfying” ending.

Long-time mystery fans will spot the mechanics of what’s happening from a mile off, while even newcomers shouldn’t have too many problems spotting the bad guys. It all leaves the movie appearing less effective than it should be given the calibre of the cast involved. Blair is a perfect choice for Abigail, her injured looks and awkward physicality providing more character development than her dialogue, but the rest of the cast struggle to make more of their characters than is on the page or the script allows. As a result, generic performances abound, particularly from Pollak who you’d be forgiven for thinking would have given himself a better role. Ribisi takes a secondary role and employs his trademark blank-faced stare to minimal effect, and Bridges (sadly) reminds us once again why his brother gets all the good roles. Worst of all, Lee and Smart fail to convince as Charles and Lillian, displaying a lack of chemistry that hurts the movie whenever they’re on screen together.

Organising it all, Gallo starts off strong but fumbles things almost from the moment Giardello talks to Abigail. Their encounter is stiff and unfriendly and it sets the tone for many of the scenes that follow, even amongst other characters. As the mystery unfolds and the movie heads into unashamed thriller territory, Gallo loses his grip completely, leading to a final fifteen minutes that defies the movie’s own logic and screams “convenience” at the top of its lungs. The movie also looks like it was made for TV, with Anastasia Michos’ photography battling against an incredibly bland lighting design. Add an equally bland score by Brian Tyler and you have a movie that seems content to settle for second best in its endeavours.

Rating: 4/10 – of passing interest only, Columbus Circle undermines itself by dispensing with its mystery elements early on, leaving any tension or drama feeling forced and artless; the only puzzle here is why Gallo and Pollak thought this would pass muster as either a mystery or a thriller.