Jack Nicholson launches a one-man crusade to find a possible child killer when he should've been looking for a reason to lend his good name to this forgettable foible.
On his final day on the job, homicide detective Jerry Black (Nicholson) can't resist the temptation of one last bloody crime scene, let alone that of a mangled 8-year-old girl. While it appears to be an open-and-shut case to the rest of the investigating officers (those actually still employed by the department), something tells Jerry that the real killer is still on the loose and will murder again another 8-year-old girl wearing a red dress Determined to find the killer, whom he has profiled based on a crayon drawing left behind by the deceased child, the irascible Jerry does the only logical thing and buys a run-down gas station and waits for the killer to fill 'er up. If you buy this, then you'll marvel at the further descent into absurdity that's aided by almost every cliché from dozens of other similarly themed (and better produced) films. This is the first movie made from a script by husband-and-wife team Jerzy Kromolowski and Mary Olson-Kromolowski, whose prior careers as photographer and musician, respectively, were, let's hope, better served.
From scene one, the race is on to see who from among this long and eclectic cast list can deliver the most over-the-top performance. Will it be Nicholson, as the senility-sinking Samaritan who, at the end of it all, is reduced to a babbling alcoholic? Will it be Benicio Del Toro as the mentally disabled, Native American murder suspect (affectionately referred to as the always original "Chief"), who is reduced to a grunting, suicidal maniac? Will it be Robin Wright Penn as the battered, bad-toothed mom who is reduced to an outraged, good-toothed guardian? Or will it be Mickey Rourke as the stoic loner parent of another deceased child who (in only three minutes!) is reduced to a blubbering loner parent of said child?
In his third outing as director ("The Crossing Guard," "The Indian Runner"), Sean Penn gives us ample time to wonder why someone so accomplished and talented would take on such an inane script. What little style Penn attempts to inject into the movie is muddled by cookie-cutter characters, weak dialogue and implausible plot points. Most unfortunate is Penn's pick of Oscar vet Hans Zimmer as composer. What a tragic waste of talent! Zimmer's well-done foreboding score lends too much credibility to a film desperately in need of a rewrite. Likewise, the interesting assembly of actors - which includes Aaron Eckhart ("Erin Brockovich"), Sam Shepard, Vanessa Redgrave and "Prime Suspect's" Helen Mirren - deserve better.
If you're worried that "The Pledge" will be a blemish on the résumés of Jack Nicholson or Sean Penn, fear not, for this film will soon be lost in the murky sea of mediocrity.