Cowardly, largely embellished manipulation makes up the bulk of The Usual Suspect's justification for existence, and – despite frequent critical praise, a screenwriting Oscar to its name and absurdly high placement on IMDb's Top 250 – they don't make a strong case once all the pieces have settled. Like the embarrassingly purported mystery hidden in plain view, the sheer transparency of it all renders this frivolous cinematic cat-and-mouse game a pointless cock tease to anyone with enough of a clue to see the bent-over-backwards "subtlety" on display for what it is: a cheap distraction, the ravings of a circus showman quick to pocket his ticket earnings before the majority of the attendees know what hit them. Here, a botched crime and subsequent explosion that leaves many dead lands lone witness Verbal (Kevin Spacey) in a demanding investigator's office, easily allowing roughly thirty minutes worth of plot to be stretched out to feature length as the audience is jerked back and forth between tepid interrogation and UPN-quality flashbacks to earlier heists Verbal took part in with four other prominent henchmen. Those able (or willing) to have the wool pulled over their eyes this shoddily have been (and will continue to be) amazed by the film's ultimate twist, but it doesn't take much sniffing around to realize from the outset that some obvious pieces of the puzzle are being intentionally hidden from sight if only to conjure mystery where none exists. The film patronizes by pretending to have far more cards up its sleeve than it actually has, and even if its crass manipulation actually bore a worthwhile payoff, The Usual Suspects further offends by failing to employ any form of consistency in its perspective-filtered presentation of critical events. In other words, the film might appear crafty in piecemeal (what with such deliberately enunciated, obviously profound dialogue, Kevin Spacey's risible performance is one of the great Oscar con jobs), but get up close and the smoke and mirrors become reprehensibly obvious. Little matters aside from the final jerk-around, and The Usual Suspects' attempts at such a payoff come across as an atrociously orchestrated bluff. Gimme Bryan Singer any day he can let his superhero freak flag fly - X-Men 2 and Superman Returns are the work of a fine craftsman and restrained artist - but his poker face is worthless at best.
Directed by: Bryan Singer Screenplay by: Christopher McQuarrie Starring: Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Spacey, Stephen Baldwin, Chazz Palminteri, Pete Postlethwaite, Kevin Pollak, Benicio Del Toro, Suzy Amis, Giancarlo Esposito, Dan Hedaya, Paul Bartel 1995, Rated R, 106 minutes
Originally published on 5-22-06, reprinted here with some editing.