The River Murders


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

    Minor spoilers in this section

 In The River Murders, Ray Liotta plays a married police detective who becomes a suspect in a series of murders in which he is the only connecting link. The victims are all women and have all slept with him except for one, and that one is his mother. To make matters especially baffling, the detective can't remember ever telling anyone that he slept with some of these women, so the killer seems to have access directly into the detective's brain. Given that the crimes were all obviously committed with a distinctive signature, therefore by a single person, and given that they occurred in several states, the FBI has jurisdiction over the case and their lead investigator (Christian Slater) is not especially happy with the co-operation he is receiving from the local detective.

  This premise really had some potential, but missed the brass ring by turning the hunt immediately into a "why done it?" and nothing more. Part of the mystery was spoiled almost immediately by showing us how the killer could know certain private things that Liotta thought he never told anyone. The film also shows us almost immediately who committed the murders, and then reveals that the FBI was conclusively able to rule out Liotta as a suspect.


  Imagine if the plot had taken a slightly different direction. What if we (and the FBI) could not rule out Liotta as a suspect, and what if he had shared some or all of the details of his love life with his priest, his psychologist,  his dad, his ex-wife or all of the above? Then the film would have added an extra layer of mystery. Could Liotta be the murderer? Could the killer be the priest? The shrink? The dad? Liotta's jealous wife? Somebody with access to the shrink's files? All of that could have been added without changing the identity of the actual murderer, and would have kept us guessing. Alternatively, what if we could not see the killer, could not rule out Liotta with DNA or an alibi, and had not been told how the murderer could know details that Liotta never told anyone? Then the FBI (and we) would certainly have had to keep Liotta on the top of the suspect list, and there would have been far more tension between the feds and the local cops.

   But the author was having none of that. Everybody knew immediately that Liotta was innocent, and they soon figured out how the killer got into Liotta's brain. We know even more than the FBI, since we can actually see who is committing the crimes. The only reason for us to keep watching is to find out why this dude has an axe to grind against Liotta. I didn't find that to be a very compelling motivation.

        Complete spoilers in this section

  The film also had a major plot hole.

  We find out in the final moments of the film that the killer is the detective's biological son. The details are too complicated to explain here, but that's supposed to be a big surprise. Here's the problem: the 11th hour revelation of the son contradicts something which happens earlier in the film.

  The victims were raped. The FBI was able to rule out Liotta by taking a DNA sample and matching it to the rapist's. See my point? Instead of saying, "Jack didn't commit the crime," the DNA analyst would have said in the first five minutes of the film, "Interesting. Jack, didn't commit the crime, but the DNA similarity shows that the rapist seems to be his son or father." Knowing that, they would run more detailed tests, rule out the father, and start looking for a disgruntled son. They would not necessarily have found the murderer any faster in those circumstances, but nobody would have been surprised that it was Liotta's kid. Of course, I reckon that neither the FBI nor Liotta should have been surprised even without the DNA test. It is logical to assume that he could have sired a child or two, given that his entire life was a succession of brief affairs and one-night stands.

  Here's the greater problem:

* If the DNA test had been realistic, nobody would have been surprised that the killer was Liotta's kid.

* Discovering that the murderer was Liotta's kid is the only reason for us to keep watching.

  As I pointed out earlier, that connection is the only part of the puzzle hidden from those of us watching the film. If it is not a surprise, there is no movie at all. Knowing every other secret from the outset, we spend the entire movie watching to find out how the killer is connected to the detective. Then, when the big secret is revealed, it turns out to be something which cannot be true because of the earlier DNA tests.


Having re-read the above, I don't know whether I am criticizing the movie or myself, for my failure to appreciate the "why done it?" genre. I guess it's a bit of both. On the one hand, I clearly don't find "why?" to be a good enough hook to sit through a plot-heavy police procedural filled with stock characters, so I guess I was predestined to write a negative review. On the other hand, the scriptwriter should have avoided the mammoth plot hole, and should have done more with the premise than to produce this mediocre and derivative straight-to-vid treatment.

Filmmaker's commentary Performers' commentary Making of


There are no major reviews online, but several genre sites and online blogs wrote reviews which are linked from the IMDb page.


5.2 IMDB summary (of 10)


Straight to video



        The only nudity comes from three corpses:

        Nike Imoru

        Vanessa Toll

        Sarah Ann Schultz (the character) or Rachel Handler (the body double). Despite the fact that we can see a face, I am pretty certain that this is actually Rachel Handler, and not Schultz, for three reasons: (1) in every camera set-up where Schultz can be clearly identified, the nudity is shot from the top of her breasts upward, and it's often awkward to do so, indicating that the director seems to be avoiding any nudity from Schultz; (2) Handler is listed as a body double at IMDb; (3) the dead corpse looks completely different from the character played by Schultz, and looks exactly like Handler, whom we saw in The Big Bang. I would never have known that this corpse was supposed to be Schultz, except that the Liotta character identifies her for us in the same instant in which we first see the body. I think that "instant ID" was probably placed in the script to get past the confusion that might have been caused by the fact that the dead body looked nothing like the live woman in the previous scene. Mind you, I could be wrong about all of this because I don't have any inside info, but that's where I'll place my bet.


Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


Almost a complete waste of time