Movie Review: “Spiral” puts us back on the “Saw” blade

As “Saw” movies go, “Spiral,” the latest film “from the Book of Saw,” isn’t one of the worst in the never-ending franchise. It’s not one of the best, either.

This thriller sits on the gory edge of the blade, teetering between “not all that” and “not that bad.”

It’s got Chris Rock in the lead as a jaded detective stalked by whatever “copycat” killer is playing the late Jigsaw’s old tricks on new victims — murderous, compromised or simply corrupt cops.

And having C. Rock guarantees some cynical sneers about marriage, “Forrest Gump” and being forced to take on a new partner (Max Minghella).

“Do I LOOK like a f—–g Jamaican nanny?”

The film serves up Samuel L. Jackson as Rock’s retired police-chief Dad. Let the bullets and “muthaf—as” fly.

There’s a funny homage to the original film.

Darren Lynn Bousman, director of three previous “Saw” sequels, returns to the franchise for the first time in over a dozen years as director, and that’s very outside-the-box for Hollywood these days — loyalty, hiring a director with experience. He’s made better and worse “Saw” movies than this.

And on the negative side, there are more and grislier torture-murders engineered by whoever this new sadistic mechanical genius might be — stuff involving trains for a cop who “railroaded” innocent people, dismemberment, electrocutions, “the usual” only more so.

Live or die,” we hear a far less growly voice than Tobin Bell purr on the video or audiotapes. “Make your choice.”

The butchery’s creative as there never seems to be a shortage of ways to impale, suffocate or whatever someone to death. If it’s done “well” it can be excruciating to sit through. “Spiral” never achieves “excruciating.” Then again, maybe I was looking away.

The “motivations” for the crimes are more overt and the deadly dilemmas — consent to losing the power to speak, walk or what have you in exchange for surviving the ordeal — still ring true.

I like Rock in the part, even if he has one or two moments where he squints so hard you grimace in sympathy for his acting teacher. He and Jackson give this re-launching of the franchise the most star power since “Saw,” which paired up Cary Elwes and Danny Glover.

But if “Saw” is becoming a thing again, “Spiral” summons up more questions than it resolves.

Which college is turning out these DaVinci-clever engineers? MIT? Cal Tech? Va. Tech? Does Elon Musk have their resumes?

Does Tobin Bell still get paid if you use just a photo of him in fond remembrance of the mass murderer/moral arbiter he played in the earlier films?

And is 11 years enough time since “Saw: The Final Chapter?” Will anybody show up for this reboot? I’d hate for Bousman to be forced back onto his starving collegiate diet — Ramen noodle soup.

The film may have a “take it or leave it” quality, but nostalgia for horror franchises is totally a thing, and at least partly justified in this spin of the blade.

MPA Rating: R (Pervasive Language|Grisly Bloody Violence|Brief Drug Use|Some Sexual References|Torture)

Cast: Chris Rock, Max Minghella, Marisol Nichols and Samuel L. Jackson

Credits: Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, script by Josh Stolberg, Peter Goldfinger. A Lionsgate release.

Running time: 1:33

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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