The 2007 movie Zodiac, about a serial killer in San Francisco of the 70’s, brings us the good news that you can get away with murder. Remember these four rules: 1. Smooth the ridges on your fingertips with airplane glue to confound the infallible fingerprint experts. 2. When you write your taunting notes to the police and press, be sure to trace the letters from multiple sources to confound the infallible handwriting experts. 3. Don’t lick those stamps! Instead, train squirrels to lick them for you to confound DNA experts. Above all, 4. Stick with killing random strangers. This last will be a disappointment to anyone impatient for their elderly but robust Aunt Fanny to pass on her millions to her favorite psychotic relative, but Zodiac teaches us that it’s bad strategy to give the Sherlocks, professional or amateur, any obvious motivation leading back to you and your brand new Maserati.
If your interest in movies depends less on these helpful practical matters than on their ability to beguile the time, Zodiac still does pretty well. True, the opening sequence almost defines the word bathos — I kid you not: it’s Three Dog Night singing “How can people be so heartless?/How can people be so cruel?/ Easy to be hard./ Easy to be cold.” But if you can get past the unintended (I hope) humor, you’ll be engrossed by the rest of the story about an obsessive newspaper cartoonist (yay!) relentlessly closing in on the Zodiac Killer. Yeah, sure the nutball was never actually caught, but we all know it was — Spoiler Alert! — Drew Carey’s transvestite brother.
Where Zodiac shines best, though, is in the manic comedy team of Robert Downey Jr. and Jake Gyllenhaal. If it had been Robert Downey Jr instead of Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain, I might have ended my personal boycott of homocowboy movies (in force since I endured Johnny Guitar). Dare we hope that someone over the mountain from me in Hollywood sees the opportunity presented by the comic chemistry between Bob ‘n’ Jake? Can we can look forward to a new series of Road Pictures that will eclipse those of Bob ‘n’ Bing?