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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Characters Raise Level of 'Seven'

"Seven," the new film now playing at the Renaissance Hotel's Dome Theater, is the story of two detectives -- a wise veteran and a brash rookie -- on the trail of a serial killer. This particular serial killer's particular quirk is basing his murders on the seven deadly sins. The detectives follow the bloody trail of this mad genius all the way to a shocking twist ending. If you like this kind of movie, you will enjoy "Seven."

Even if you don't like this kind of movie, even if for some inexplicable reason you feel surfeited with glossy grit about mad geniuses who kill people in clever ways, and have grown unaccountably weary of seeing so much talent and money and genuine craft continually spilled, like Onan's seed, on the stony ground of such a banal, unfruitful theme, even in this case you will find the first half of the film quite engrossing. (And a bit grossing, too, but that simply must be borne in this kind of movie.) What you will see in this first half is an unusual amount of attention paid to building up actual characters, something like realistic human beings to inhabit the story's stereotype shells.

You'll see, and enjoy, Morgan Freeman as the aging, meticulous, literate Detective Somerset, who with his dignity, street smarts and stylish threads looks like an elegant cross between Nelson Mandela and Humphrey Bogart. (You can also catch Freeman -- in dreadlocks and knee breeches -- across town this weekend in "Moll Flanders" at the Americom.) You'll watch Brad Pitt struggle (and usually succeed) to add a pinch of human salt to his clich?-ridden young hothead, Detective Mills. And you'll see Gwyneth Paltrow's very effective turn as Mills' sweet young wife, gamely grappling with her new life in a tough inner-city neighborhood.

If you like this kind of movie, you'll note with pleasure how thoroughly director David Fincher quotes (pays homage to, steals shamelessly from) the genre's crowning glory: "The Silence of the Lambs." The visual language is a near-perfect match, and "Seven" also manages to convey -- most of the time -- the same sense of brooding, almost-otherworldly malevolence that made "Lamb" so memorable. To echo something great is no mean feat, and this resonance is one of the best things about "Seven." To this, Fincher sometimes adds something of his own: a jumpy, nervous, quick-cutting style, the kind of MTV-like visual agitation that many people living comfortable lives in Hollywood believe is a mirror of life "on the street."

But even if you like this kind of movie, and have been thrilling to the many ways in which it surpasses the common run of the genre, you will still notice that when the plot machinery goes into overdrive -- a little more than halfway through -- the character development gets crunched in the gears, and the movie begins to play itself out with all the spark and spontaneity of a Byzantine court ritual (or presidential debate). You will also be chagrined to find that the dark heart of the story -- the mad genius himself -- is uncompelling in the extreme, and rather limply played by the usually reliable Kevin Spacey. To be sure, it's a daunting task to follow in the footsteps of Anthony Hopkins' towering Hannibal Lecter, but Spacey perhaps goes a little too far in the other direction, underplaying the character until he practically fades from the screen.

You might also find yourself disappointed by the ending of the movie, a "twist" that even the sleepiest viewer will have seen coming, in some form, for a good half-hour at least. Because of this, the unbearable tension Fincher hopes to achieve with what Rolling Stone called his "gut-wrenching climax" is largely dissipated and, despite its implied horror, will knot nary a gut.

But if you like this kind of movie, you will already have been sufficiently entertained by its visual energy and early attention to character that you can no doubt forgive its pointless and unsatisfactory ending and go home with a feeling of money well spent. For "Seven" is certainly one of the best examples of its kinds.

"Seven" is showing at the Dome Theater in the Renaissance Hotel, 18/1 Olympiisky Prospekt. Metro: Prospekt Mira. Tel. 931-9873.