Although it's not original, ‘Thr3e' a goreless surprise

Reel to Reel

&#8220Thr3e” isn't a bad film; it's just a familiar one.

The adaptation of a popular novel by Ted Dekker has an intriguing premise and a plot twist that I found compelling (even if it was somewhat implausible), but also unfortunately appears as if it's trying to cash in on existing films.

&#8220Thr3e” begins with a criminal psychologist named Jennifer Peters (Justine Waddell) trying to save her brother from a disturbed madman known as the Riddle Killer. Peters is unsuccessful, but seems to get a second chance several months later when the killer targets a young seminary student named Kevin Parson (Marc Blucas).

Parson and Peters join forces, trying to unravel the killer's riddles and catch him before he strikes again. But as the pair get closer to unlocking the killer's identity, the path becomes more twisted.

I went into &#8220Thr3e” not knowing what to expect, but I will say I was pleasantly surprised. Dekker's story, adapted by Alan B. McElroy, unravels nicely - culminating in a couple of twists. The first - and most significant - twist works the best, but a second shocker just isn't as effective (I actually thought it took away from the first one).

I also liked the fact this was a thriller that relied more on psychological games and less on blood and gore to advance the story. It was refreshing the killer used bombs and not ridiculous contraptions designed to slice up every orifice imaginable.

Blucas and Waddell are pretty good in their respective roles, but Priscilla Barnes and Tom Bower are laughably bad as Parson's estranged aunt and uncle who raised him.

My biggest problem is Robby Henson's direction. Henson relies on way too many thriller clichés, but his biggest mistake is making the killer look too much like Jigsaw from &#8220Saw.” It makes &#8220Thr3e” look like a ripoff - even though Dekker's novel was released prior to the first &#8220Saw” film - and also takes away from what could have been a very interesting little thriller.

&#8220Thr3e” is definitely better than most January releases, the time of year when studios throw their junk at unsuspecting moviegoers, but it still isn't anything that will be remembered by the time 2008 rolls around.

DVD dandy of the week

This week's dandy is &#8220The Illusionist” (B), the first of two 2006 films that successfully revived the turn-of-the-century magician genre, if there actually was one to begin with.

Edward Norton stars as Eisenheim, a magician in early-1900s Vienna who falls in love with Sophie (Jessica Biel), a woman well above his social standing.

When Sophie gets engaged to Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), Eisenheim uses his powers to free her and undermine the stability of the royal house of Austria.

I've always been a fan of Norton and he again delivers a very good performance. Sewell is pretty good as the adversary and Paul Giamatti has a nice role as an inspector trying to uncover Eisenheim's secrets. Only Biel seems out of place, but even she is tolerable.

&#8220The Illusionist” isn't as good as 2006's second magic film &#8220The Prestige,” but it is an entertaining piece of work.

&#8220The Illusionist” is rated PG-13 for some sexuality and violence and will be available on DVD on Tuesday.

- Next week Michael will reveal his list of the 10 worst films of 2006.