Title: The Oxford Murders
Directed By: Alex de la Iglesia
Starring: Elijah Wood, John Hurt, Leonor Watling, Julie Cox, Jim Carter, Burn Gorman, Anna Massey
Who doesn’t love a good riddle? Even if you can’t solve it on the spot, someone gives you the answer and even hearing the logic of it after the fact is immensely entertaining. But what fun is a riddle you can’t understand? None and that’s why The Oxford Murders fails. You’re curious, but then get a slew of wildly fantastical twists and turns making you wish you could just give up and find out the answer. But until you can watch this one on DVD, there’s no fast forwarding and you must endure 108 minutes of painful perplexity only to discover an answer that’s preposterous.
Elijah Wood stars as Martin, an American working on his doctorate at Oxford. He goes there with his fingers crossed that his idol, Arthur Seldom (John Hurt), will agree to supervise his thesis, but when the two finally come face-to-face in a packed lecture hall, Seldom berates Martin for attempting to disprove the concept that irrefutable truth don’t exist. The encounter is so disheartening, Martin opts to pack his things and head home to the states. But when he gets back to Mrs. Eagleton’s (Anna Massey) house where he’s renting a room, he finds the poor old lady dead. Curiously enough, Martin isn’t alone when he finds Eagleton’s lifeless body, Seldom is there too. A note drove him to the crime scene, a note that also came with a cryptic symbol and implied more murders would follow.
The Oxford Murders starts out promising. At first, Martin is a likable protagonist, his predicament is set up nicely and there’s a riveting foreboding feeling in the air, but once the mathematical geniuses collide, it’s just an overdose of unintelligible, wordy jargon that is meaningless to everyone expect Martin and Seldom. The whole scenario makes little sense from the first murder on. Apparently there’s a killer leaving clues behind, but the audience is never let in on Seldom’s decoding game, making the whole situation frustrating rather than intriguing. Martin barely gets what’s going on himself and even when he declares he does, there’s no justification to his revelation. In fact, there’s really no logical validation for anything that happens in this film. Things just fall into place and we’re expected to accept them.
For instance, there’s Martin’s love interest, Lorna (Leonor Watling). She bumps into him playing racquetball, it sparks a relationship and then it just so happens that she works at the facility where the second murder takes place and has a past with Seldom. And she’s not the only supporting character buried in an outlandish scenario; The Oxford Murders has a handful of people who are blatantly thrown in only to be seen as possible killers. First off there’s Beth (Julie Cox), Mrs. Eagleton’s daughter. She’s a strange individual to start, but the character completely goes down when her infatuation for Martin kicks in. Even stranger is Martin’s study partner, Yuri (Burn Gorman), who’s just completely out of his mind. Perhaps these two characters wouldn’t have been so disconcerting had Gorman and Cox not been suffering from an extreme case of overacting.
At least Wood and Hurt put on decent performances in their roles. Playing an unsympathetic professor is easy for Hurt and it shows. He does what the part requires of him and nothing more. Wood, on the other hand, is clearly trying harder and it works to some extent. He makes for a good student struggling with a deadly riddle, but everything comes crashing down when he’s got to play the boyfriend. It’s painful to watch Wood kiss Walting, but then the two engage in a disturbing sex scene involving spaghetti, which is the most memorable moment in the film for all the wrong reasons.
Swapping actors wouldn’t have made The Oxford Murders any better. This is just a poorly formulated story that’s nearly impossible to understand and accept. No matter how hard you try to hear every word of the verbose nonsense coming out of Hurt and Wood’s mouths, you won’t succeed, will eventually give up and tune out. Even worse, the film’s more thrilling moments are so unsuccessful, there’s really nothing to reel you back in. That’s when the tale becomes so tiresome that all interest in discovering who the killer is will be lost and you’ll just be desperate for the film to end.
By Perri Nemiroff