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Warner Home Video (DVD), ASIN B00005JL29

Like First to Die, this film begins with a bang. Then it whips into a flashback that tracks teenagers defying morality. Their plot resurrects the past for one hard-boiled female detective. Her survival requires that the dead stay dead. She functions among this number -- a woman who feels nothing.

dvd: murder by numbers Cassie Mayweather (Sandra Bullock) proceeds about her grisly business as a zombie might return from a trip underground. The first level of terror here struts invisibly before the audience. Always anticipating that men behave like children, she orders pizza just to keep them off her crime scene. When we hear her claim possession, we cannot comprehend that she means this phrase in the most literal sense. Each blood-soaked dumping ground belongs to her, just as she remains fixated on it.

Her obsession provides an advantage. She sees through pretense, for she once fell victim to the "cutest boy" of her teenage acquaintance. Surrender didn't result in date rape, however, or a single beating. It meant an early marriage to a male who ruled the roost by violence. It meant being reduced to a kidnapped child -- who can find no allies once the latch turns -- no way to battle death when it stops her leave-taking, either.

Bullock takes complete command of this role. The edge to her voice grates against our ears, carrying the sense of muscles clenched in the jaw, expecting a blow. Her whip-snap repartee maneuvers males into positions where her control remains paramount. As men challenge her self-defense strategies, crises line up like bowling pins. Her superior finally carries her bodily from the seat of authority.

Balanced over against her female toughness, a new male partner demonstrates soft-spoken integrity. His shyness foils her in-your-face routines -- a green wrapper around a thorny rose. Charming teenage suspects also throw everyone off-guard. For new takes on sexual stereotypes, run this film at least fifty times in a row. Snickering males give virtual transsexual performances here, complete with shivering shoulders and sidelong glances.

Teenagers undo Cassie's superficial confidence. Whether flirting or claiming helplessness, they hurl her up against nightmares she dare not recall. Ryan Gosling performs with every unruly peak of his bleached hair. Specializing in seduction, his Cupid grins mock kisses. Michael Pitt also leans into his role in the exact manner of the closet high school intellectual. We seem to hear his secret thoughts: if he masters cool, can he escape endless envious insults?

The entire plot explores power struggles not only between but within the sexes. With terrifying realism, it demonstrates how youngsters can become a mob of two. Together, they form a monster neither one could envision alone. The same observation applies, however, to professional teams. Men and women cross the boundaries of propriety every time they open their mouths. In a politically explosive world like this -- Shhhh! -- just nod and watch the movie.

Meg Curtis

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