Movie Magazine International

The Minus Man

USA - 1999

Movie Review By Monica Sullivan

In 1990, with little fanfare, Penguin books published “The Minus Man”, by New England writer Lew McCreary. It was a slim book (eleven chapters, less than 250 pages), but densely written, with a story that packed a wallop: What goes in the mind of a serial killer? In 1999, writer/director Hampton Fancher brought “The Minus Man” to the big screen & Grove Press re-issued the novel as a paperback movie tie-in. The surprising thing about “The Minus Man” is that he sounds a lot like a number of men I know. Murdering people with a rare poison is like a passionate hobby for him. The rest of the time, he lives a life of absolute banality, working for the post office, renting a room in the home of married couple Brian Cox & Mercedes Ruehl, dating postal worker Janeane Garafalo with all the courteous restraint of the so-called perfect gentleman.

To draw in future victims, he flashes them a smile, a smile no different than that of any successful con man. The smile only looks reassuring & real: If you tried to copy it yourself, your jaw & facial muscles would ache from the strain, so don’t try. It’s bait for suckers who don’t mind losing their money, their hearts &/or their lives to deceptively charming strangers. For the role of Vann Dothan Siegert, Fancher cast Owen Wilson. Yep, the same Owen Wilson who’s charming the nation opposite Jackie Chan in “Shanghai Noon” as flaky Roy O’Bannon, a legendary cowboy in his own mind. O’Bannon’s a different character, rooted in inept banditry rather than in the deep psychosis of Siegert. But the smile remains the same: It’s a smile of such high voltage & seductive persuasion that you might abandon every shred of common sense simply to bask in it as long as you can.

Many factors contribute to making “The Minus Man” the blood-chilling creeper that it is, including the presence of Lew McCreary himself as one of Siegert’s random victims. The centrepiece of the horror is Owen Wilson’s eerily distilled blend of good & evil. Siegert isn’t a Charlie Manson or a Ted Bundy, attracting attention wherever he goes. He IS the ultimate unsolved mystery. If we dug all the way down to the source of his homicidal impulses, we’d only discover with a sigh that there is no mystery, only a cypher who places the same moral value on drinking a glass of water as he does on poisoning his umpteenth stranger for the hell of it. “The Minus Man” is available nationally at neighborhood video outlets.

© 2000 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 5/31/00

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