The choice that Lionsgate and Chris Rock (of all people) made to let the Saw franchise live and not die turns out to be a poor one with Spiral. Four years after Jigsaw managed to improve a bit on episodes IV-VII (which mostly felt like one long grim tale), the idea behind ninth installment Spiral (subtitled From the Book of Saw) at least turned some heads. In fact, the story behind its green lighting is far more unexpected and interesting than anything during its 93 minutes. Rock, one of the all-time great comedians, apparently had a chance meeting with a studio exec at a Brazilian wedding and pitched his take on a way to revive the series. The rest is history that will be mostly forgotten based on the weaker than expected box office returns. I bet camera footage of Rock’s pitch would be more satisfying and there would be a wedding reception and Brazil.
While this is the first Saw flick without Tobin Bell, we do have some regulars back. Darren Lynn Bousman (who made II-IV) returns to direct while Josh Stolberg and Peter Goldfinger (Jigsaw writers) penned it. Rock is Detective Zeke Banks and he’s mostly hated by his fellow officers since he turned in a dirty cop years ago. His father (Samuel L. Jackson, who’s slowly but surely appearing in every franchise known to man) is a former Captain who’s revered by his peers. Max Minghella plays the eager rookie gumshoe tasked to work with the hesitant Zeke.
And there are, of course, Jigsaw type killings. Except this time Jigsaw is not mostly dead, but actually dead. There’s no Tobin Bell flashbacks. There are, however, still lots of flashbacks and some of them remind us of plot points that we literally saw about 15-20 minutes prior. A copycat killer is offing coworkers from Zeke’s precinct while reminding them of their workplace sins just before their brutal demises. This naturally involves the kind of traps we’ve grown accustomed to that slice skin and sever spinal cords. The first game begins with a tongue lashing to the nearly departed victim and ends with a tongue slashing.
If the whole idea of a brilliant comedian planting himself in a Saw like universe sounds like it might be weird… well, it is. Rock struggles with being believable in the role. His punch-ups to the screenplay aren’t hard to pick out as there’s mostly unfunny riffs on Forrest Gump and the time of day cheating habits of men vs. women. The bulk of the script veers back and forth between trying (I suppose) to make some statement on police corruption and just being a regular old Saw pic. It surprisingly fails on both fronts. And like every entry preceding it, there’s a twist ending. Some of them (especially in the original) packed a wallop. In Spiral, it’s a shrug inducing one that you can easily see coming.
Jigsaw was the first attempt to revitalize these twisted pictures. It was certainly no horror classic, but I admired moments of it. Spiral, despite the sharp talent involved, is a massive misfire.
My previous posts on the Saw pics can be accessed here: