In “The Little Things,” Denzel Washington’s washed-up detective persona repeats to another character that it takes considering the little things at a crime scene to solve a case.
But in this all-star thriller, it’s the big things, like chemistry, a decent script and sense of dread or suspense that would make this more-than-two-hour journey worth it. It has none of those elements.
Based on a script written in 1993 by John Lee Hancock, “The Little Things” feels like a lot of other, better thrillers that have come out since that screenplay was drafted. “Se7en, “Zodiac” and “Insomnia” all follow similar territory but are buoyed by tremendous performances and a sense of urgency and fear.
Though the main cast of “The Little Things” shares four Academy Awards, it’s Washington who is doing the heavy lifting, with a hangdog stare and an occasional flash of his toothy grin. Meanwhile, Rami Malek is woefully miscast as his detective protégé and Jared Leto seems like he’s come in from a totally different movie.
Helmed by Hancock, a director clearly out of his depths, known for bright, shiny biopics like Disney’s “Saving Mr. Banks” and the Ray Kroc story “The Founder,” he centers the story around “Deke,” a deputy sheriff played by Washington who is dragged back into the thrust of a case of which he has no business investigating.
LAPD detective Jimmy Baxter (Malek) needs a set of fresh eyes on the case of a serial killer and despite Deke being a disgraced detective, his work prior to a botched case leads him to be the point man on the search.
Following a few red herrings and dead ends, they eye a greasy, sunken-eyed stranger (Leto) as their main suspect. He’s more than willing to play their game and mess with the investigation. That allows Leto to chew scenery and generally look like the sleaziest person who ever walked the Earth.
Save for a gripping five-minute opening shot involving a car chase and a manhunt, “The Little Things” misfires on all cylinders. It distracts viewers by leading them down a series of unnecessary paths and when it finally gets the right one, the reveal isn’t worth all the slogging to get to it.
Where Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman had crackling back-and-forth conversations in “Se7en” or Robin Williams and Al Pacino had an interesting, constantly evolving dynamic in “Insomnia,” Washington and Malek have the chemistry of two strangers trying to find common ground while waiting in line at the DMV. Whatever promise Malek had in “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “Mr. Robot” is lost in this stoic, mush-mouthed performance.
I could see “The Little Things” being a big hit in the 2000s, alongside thrillers like “Kiss The Girls,” “Along Came A Spider” and “Double Jeopardy.” Instead, it will be something you scroll past while flipping through movies on HBO Max, and rightfully so.
“The Little Things” will be screening at the Fox Theater in Atchison, Kansas, and the Screenland Armour in Kansas City, Missouri. It will also be available to stream on HBO Max.