Don't Say a Word (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

The critics were not especially kind to this formula thriller, but it did reasonably well at the box office, and has a respectable rating at IMDb. Frankly, it does the job for the genre. It's a typical slick Hollywood Thriller. The fundamental plotline is contrived and overly elaborate, but the pacing is excellent and the actors do a good job, so it is thrilling when it should be thrilling, and it works in some decidedly creepy atmosphere at the end.

Michael Douglas plays a psychiatrist whose daughter has been kidnapped. The daughter is one of those really, really, cute adorable little girls. Think really cute. So cute that she has received cuteness awards, and looked really cute receiving them. A little teeny-tiny genius, so precocious that she makes Shirley Temple seem a little slow and not at all perky. So wise and fresh-faced that she makes "Anne of Green Gables" seem as shallow and world-worn as Pamela Anderson. So full of pep that she makes the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders look like the listless, pasty-faced guys in the library poring over the Chemical Abstract. So smart that she makes Mozart seem as dull as Salieri's butter knife.

The kidnappers call up Dr Mike and say "you have a nut-girl patient with a six digit number locked in her head. Get that number to us by five o'clock, or we snuff out Little Mozart". Dr Mike is a shrink, so he knows how to handle this. He tells them, "I'm going to hang up now, and don't call back unless you are going to be polite. And I want to hear some good grammar." They don't know any grammar, so they let his daughter make the return call. When the phone rings again, it is the voice of Little Mozart saying, "Oh, daddy, they have made me feel so lugubrious that I've gotten off the train of thought that was leading me on its inexorable track toward a solution to Fermat's Last Theorem"

Despite all his mental hanky-panky, and despite the fact that a patient who has been institutionalized for 10 years without talking is not likely to respond to therapy within the limitations of emergency kidnapping deadlines, the bad guys still have the kid and the guns after all, so Dr Mike takes his car, drives right through the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, and solves the mystery.

But he's not just going to give them the number, nosireebob. He has deduced that the six digit number is the number of an anonymous grave on Hart Island. It is the grave of the nut-girl's daddy, into which she placed her favorite dolly. This is important because her daddy was a crook who had double-crossed his buddies, and he had previously hidden the Hope Diamond, or something of equivalent value, in the dolly.


none. not even close

There is plenty of silly stuff beyond the fact that Dr Mike actually figured out the puzzle by five o'clock.

1) The bad guys, although having spent the last ten years in prison, have something like 16 TV cameras set up in the doc's home, to watch his every movement. Must have cost a fortune. They must be paying really good wages in prison now. I guess that's why license plates cost more every year.

2) Dr Mike's wife, although in bed with a broken leg, kicks the crap out of one of the bad guys. At one point, he is on top of her and is tightening a cord around her neck. He's a big guy, she's an injured woman. Looks perilous for Pauline this time, eh kids? Not at all. She powers out like Hulk Hogan when he gets his second wind.

3) Dr Mike, his daughter, and the nut-girl manage to kick the crap out of the bad guys in a physical fight. Dr Mike single-handedly beats a musclebound guy who must be about 6'6" 250.

4) When they need to get to Hart Island, there just happens to be a private boat moored next to the closed ferry. Pretty durned convenient, eh? But better than that, when Dr Mike takes his speedboat out to the island, the bad guys are already there. So if the ferry was closed, and Dr Mike got the only boat, how did the baddies get there? And how could they get there before him when he had a head start, and found the boat immediately? Are they members of the Harlem Yacht Club? Did they use their vast license plate fortune to hire a chopper?

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1

  • deleted scenes

  • several featurettes

  • full-length director commentary

  • scene-specific actor commentary

5) Jennifer Esposito, as the detective on the case, shows up just in the nick of time (on Hart Island!), just as King Bad is about to cancel Dr Mike's table for three.

6) Although Esposito knew she would be entering a situation with three or more bad guys holding three or more hostages, she nonetheless appeared on the scene alone. On an island. Even the guy who piloted the boat was gone.

There was a lot more in that same silly vein, but you have the idea. It was gimmicky. Most of these big-time thrillers are silly, if you pick them apart. On the other hand, this one had plenty of tension "in the moment" so I kinda liked it, and you may too if you like the Hollywood Thriller genre and you know in advance that it ain't Citizen Kane.


In the past year, this is the second movie I've seen which used Hart Island as a locale, the other being the grade-z Island of the Dead. It's a real place, and a great choice for spooky atmosphere, especially at night. Although not far offshore from the Bronx or Harlem (it is technically part of the Bronx), it must be one of the creepiest places on earth. Since 1860, its remote location in the Sound has made it useful for housing those elements of our world that we must deal with, but don't want to look at.

  • During the Civil War, it was a confederate prison camp, and burial ground, and a training center for "colored troops".
  • Over the years, it has been used as a prison and as an insane asylum.
  • It once housed rows of fine houses, and a neighborhood where children played. (The staff of the prison/asylum lived on the island).
  • It has never ceased to be used as New York City's Potter's Field - the burial ground for the unidentified and the impoverished. Prisoners still unload the coffins, as they have for decades, but now they are prisoners from Riker's Island who return to their cells at night.
  • The island once housed secret missile launching sites - our last defense against an attack on New York.

Today, the buildings still stand on the island, and the streets are still visible, albeit overgrown. One may see the prison, the chapels, the homes. The cemetery grows ever larger, now including more than a half million graves. The empty missile silos are still visible. The remainder of the island is a sewage treatment area.

If ever a place would have ghosts, this would be it.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two stars. Ebert 2.5/4, Berardinelli 2/4, 2/5, BBC 3/5

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDB readers say 6.2/10 .
  • with their dollars ... it grossed $55 million, but this is disappointing to the studio because the movie budget was  $50 million.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. If you think Hollywood thrillers stink, this will not dissuade you. It's typically dumb. I rather enjoyed it, but the contrivances of the genre don't bother me.

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