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Spiral: From the Book of Saw

Chris Rock continues to try and revive his career as the star and executive producer of 2021's Spiral, a confusing and relentlessly bloody combination of police drama and horror based on the original Saw franchise. This review is coming from someone who only saw snippets of the first Saw film and none of the sequels.

Rock plays Detective Ezekiel Banks, a hardened veteran police detective whose career and relationships with his fellow cops went south many years ago when he fingered a dirty cop, finds himself thrust in the middle of a bizarre investigation where several of his colleagues, who have all been accused of being dirty cops at some point, start dying grisly deaths at the hand of the infamous Jigsaw Killer, who apparently was the villain in the Saw movies.

Having not seen any of the Saw movies, it's difficult to tell whether this film is a re-thinking of the franchise or a continuation of the last film in the series because the screenwriters and director Darren Lynn Bousman, who directed all of the Saw films but the first one, seem to assume here that the viewer has seen the previous films and have placed the Jigsaw Killer in the middle of a by-the-numbers police drama that picks kind of an obvious target for its unrelenting gore...dirty cops. Unfortunately, the punishment seems to vastly outweigh the crimes.

The overly complex screenplay starts off with a conventional veteran cop breaking in a new partner story, but then not only begins to mercilessly wipe out half the cast, but also flashes back to the events that turned Banks' career into the living hell, further complicated by his being caught in the shadow of his father (Samuel L. Jackson). Eventually the story pares down to the undeniably grisly murders of dirty cops that do display a degree of originality in terms of cinematic violence, as we witness one cop's tongue ripped out while being run down by a subway, another one have his fingers ripped off, and one involving a man in a bottle factory that literally had this viewer turning his head away from the screen.

Bousman applies a lot of skill with the camera and a solid assist from film editor Dev Singh, but the unrelenting gore on display here didn't have the effect for this reviewer that it should have, but I'm not sure if it's because of my unfamiliarity with franchise or just messy filmmaking. The overripe performances from Rock and Jackson don't help sustain interest either. Maybe fans of the original Saw franchise will find entertainment here, but nothing here motivated me to go back to the original movie and figure out what I didn't understand.