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Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector Could Use a Little Denzel and Angelina

The TV adaptation of the bestselling thriller is just as ridiculous as the movie, but without the star power.
  • Russell Hornsby, Michael Imperioli, and Arielle Kebbel in Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector (NBC)
    Russell Hornsby, Michael Imperioli, and Arielle Kebbel in Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector (NBC)

    The Bone Collector, the first novel in the popular Lincoln Rhyme crime thriller series by author Jeffery Deaver, was adapted into a big, splashy movie starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie back in 1999. It wasn't very good (it has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 28%). Two decades later, believing it to still have some name recognition value worth milking, the property has been adapted into a TV series for NBC under the awkward title Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector. Alas, this new version is no better than the film adaptation. 

    For the small screen iteration, Oscar-winning superstar Denzel Washington has been replaced by Russell Hornsby, who played the dutiful cop sidekick on six seasons of NBC's Grimm. No disrespect to Hornsby, who's a fine actor (he did some good work on Lincoln Heights back in the day), but he's no Denzel Washington. That proves problematic when taking on a character like Lincoln Rhyme, a brilliant police pathologist who's always the smartest person in the room and won't let anyone forget it. At least in the show's pilot episode, Hornsby portrays the character as an insufferable, know-it-all ass. Washington did a better job of modulating his performance so that the character came across as prickly but still ultimately likable. The TV Rhyme has little to like so far.

    Some of the plot details have been changed around a bit, but the gist of the story remains the same between the movie and the TV show (and presumably the original book, which I haven't read). While investigating a crime scene, Rhyme is injured on the job and left quadriplegic, only able to move his head and one finger. After years bedbound, he's called back to duty by his former partner (Michael Imperioli), who needs his help analyzing the details of a new murder believed to be the work of a serial killer. Despite her inexperience with forensics and resistance to his bullying nature, Rhyme insists on working closely with the first officer on the scene, young beat cop Amelia Sachs (formerly Angelina Jolie, now Arielle Kebbel). Soon enough, Lincoln has a full forensics lab with a team of assistants operating out of his living room, while Amelia functions as his eyes and ears in the field.

    To accomplish this, the series updates some of the film's clunky old computer technology with a high-tech (yet unobtrusive) VR camera rig for Amelia and a fancy, multi-screen viewing monitor for Lincoln to watch everything she does. To make sure Hornsby the actor has some opportunity to get up and walk around rather than lying in bed or sitting in a wheelchair the entire series, the show also creates plenty of excuses to flash back to Lincoln's early days on the police force.

    In perhaps the biggest change to the material, the Bone Collector himself (Brian F. O'Byrne) is a known quantity right from the start, not a newly discovered killer. Viewers  learn his identity up front and even see some of his home life. The show also makes the connection between Lincoln and the killer more direct and personal. No longer paralyzed in a random accident, Rhyme falls into a trap while chasing the Bone Collector, and thirsts for payback when he believes his nemesis is back at work. This feels pretty hackneyed, but no more so than the rest of the plotting.

    One big thing the movie and the TV show have in common is the complete absurdity of their plots. The story is filled with dumb clichés and ridiculous contrivances. Of course the killer will leave a string of obscure clues taunting the police (and specifically Lincoln) to catch him. Of course the solution to his puzzles will rely upon the hero having an encyclopedic knowledge of not just science and psychology, but also history, geography, and the imprint logos of long defunct 19th Century book publishers. (Fine, that last detail is only in the movie, but the TV show serves up some equally silly foolishness.) Of course the killer will barely slip through the cops' fingers time and again.

    The movie version barely held all this nonsense together with the magnetism and charisma of Denzel Washington at his prime and Angelina Jolie right as she was flowering into stardom. Again, Russell Hornsby is not a bad actor. However, he is decidedly a supporting player. And despite a fairly lengthy filmography, Kebbel feels virtually indistinguishable from a dozen other spunky young heroines on a dozen similar network dramas. If she were out sick and Megan Boone had to step into the role for a week, I doubt anyone would notice.

    The original novel by Jeffery Deaver was successful enough to spawn a long string of sequels featuring the Lincoln Rhyme character. The material must read better on the page than it has fared in either of its Hollywood adaptations. Some of those follow-up books will undoubtedly get mined for the plots to future episodes. By the end of the pilot, it becomes clear that the intention for this Lincoln Rhyme series is to be a formulaic serial-killer-of-the-week procedural with the Bone Collector hovering in the background, always just out of reach.

    To that end, this is certainly no Hannibal. It completely lacks that much-superior show's artistry or psychological depth. Frankly, it doesn't even compare well to the middling late-'90s thriller that already covered this story, and that wasn't a very high bar to clear.

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    Josh Zyber has written about TV, movies, and home theater for the past two decades. Most recently, he spent more than nine years managing a daily blog at High-Def Digest.

    TOPICS: Lincoln Rhyme: Hunt for the Bone Collector, NBC, Arielle Kebbel, Brían F. O'Byrne, Jeffery Deaver, Michael Imperioli, Russell Hornsby