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The Movie: Copycat (1995)
I chose this one because I remember seeing the poster for it in practically every video store I went to growing up. There was something really striking about it but I never felt compelled to see it. When I came up with this column, it was one of the first films that came to my mind. Now that I’ve seen it, I can understand why it isn’t mentioned a whole bunch but we’ll get to that. Because I really want to focus on the good elements of this movie first.
Copycat has a fairly fun thriller premise: a profiler (Sigourney Weaver) has been traumatized after a near-fatal encounter with a serial killer (a batshit Harry Connick Jr. who belongs in a different movie) and she’s become agoraphobic because of it. When a new serial killer pops up, the lead detective (Holly Hunter) ends up enlisting her help. They soon discover that this killer is copying certain serial killers of the past and try to suss out who he is and how he’ll strike next.
The biggest takeaway from Copycat is the fact that it is anchored by two female leads. Weaver’s character is fundamentally damaged due to her attack, but her arc is all about overcoming that and even mocking the killer straight to his face. She calls him impotent, laughs at him and spits in his face! It’s an absolutely wonderful performance from Weaver that deserves some recognition. Yes, it does venture into some pulpy, dime store novel histrionics at times but it works in the bigger picture. And Holly Hunter is great in a role that would normally go to a man, She’s tough, smart-mouthed, and damn good at her job. There are some romantic elements in the film in regards to the two leads but they are played as total B-plots. There’s no cheesy love scene or anything like that. If not for one thing at the very end, this would be a perfect example of the kinds of female protagonists we need today in our films.
Another strong asset is the direction. Jon Amiel – whose entire filmography could be featured in this column – does go a little overboard with the Dutch angles at times, but there is something really clean and focused about the film. And at two hours, the pacing never really drags. Copycat is a well-constructed movie when it comes to what’s going on behind the camera.
Now, the bad stuff. The worst part about this section is that the weaker elements are some of the most integral parts of the movie. Let’s start with the Copycat Killer himself (William McNamara). Not only does he turn out to be underwritten but he’s really, really boring. McNamara has two modes of acting in the role: unassuming nice guy and laughably intense madman. It doesn’t help that the movie reveals him before the story is even halfway through, taking any real mystery out of the game for our protagonists. If the movie had been from his perspective from the get-go, maybe this would have worked but that’s obviously not the case. There is no real character to the Copycat Killer or even a good reason given as to why he’s imitating these murders. When your villain doesn’t work, it sucks a lot of air out of the movie.
Speaking of that, Harry Connick Jr. also plays a role as a villain and it’s awful. Ok, he’s not awful as far as his performance goes. I mean, he kind of is but it’s enjoyable enough to not be annoying or distracting. He’s cartoonish in a movie that isn’t quite going for that kind of tone. And if it was, it’s not doing a good job of it. He maintains a presence throughout the movie and (spoiler for a twenty-two-year-old film) ends up being in contact with the Copycat Killer. I’m sure the movie was going for a Red Dragon kind of deal here but it falls flat with a resounding *thud*.
And that little thing at the end that I brought up earlier? Here’s where Harry Connick Jr.’s character ruins the movie. So, the ending has both Weaver and hunter face off with the Copycat Killer and they defeat him. I was all, “Yes! Both of them have ended the movie with a great finish that doesn’t undermine them as strong female characters.” But wait! The last shot of the movie attempts to leave things on an ominous note by having Harry Connick Jr. writing a letter to a “follower” of his from jail. Turns out that he’s got a whole bunch of admirers who are becoming serial killers themselves! It’s a dud of an ending that also takes away from the success of the female leads and it leaves the movie on a disappointing note. Plus, the final image is Harry Connick Jr.’s face. That’s worse than ending your movie with boring white text explaining what happened later.
Is It Worth Mentioning?: Even with all that, I still think this is a movie worth watching. The female leads are doing a great job and are playing characters that we don’t often see being played by women. Heck, there’s even something to be said about this being led by two women and they are never grossly sexualized at all! And they aren’t nubile nymphette starlets either, though that shouldn’t be taken to mean they aren’t beautiful. Sigourney Weaver is still drop dead gorgeous to this day and Holly Hunter managed to look fabulous recently in a movie where she had to touch a jar full of Jesse Eisenberg’s piss.
Copycat isn’t a hidden gem but it’s not a total write-off either. If you like crime thrillers, it’s definitely one to see.
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