One thing "Knight Moves" proves is that no amount of chilling music, wild camera movements or intense direction can make a chess game exciting.
Written by Brad Mirman, who also gave us the ludicrous "Body of Evidence" last month, "Knight Moves" boasts the same kind of illogical plotting, idiotic motivation and ridiculous dialogue.
Director Carl Schenkel (who made the quirky "The Mighty Quinn" in better days) tries to liven things up with abstract camera angles and black-and-white flashbacks but generally settles for hack instincts intead. Right down to his chauvinistic treatment of co-star Diane Lane, whom he photographs - twice - with one of those shots that starts at her feet and moves slowly up her body. The only thing he forgot was the saxophone.
There is a saving grace ... of sorts. "Knight Moves" does manage to prompt laughter ... albeit unintentional. In fact, at times things here are so absurd the film becomes a real hoot.
The central character is chess grandmaster Peter Sanderson (French actor Christopher Lambert, of the "Highlander" films, who also co-produced). He's playing a tournament in a small town in Washington State. With him are his motherless young daughter and his mysterious, older chess coach, who happens to be blind.
The first night there, Sanderson telephones an acquaintance, goes to her apartment, has sex and leaves. Immediatley thereafter, she is brutally murdered by an unseen killer, her face is smeared grotesquely with makeup, he takes Polaroid photographs while draining her body of blood and then uses some of the blood to scrawl a word on her bedroom wall.
The local police chief Frank Sedman (Tom Skerritt) and hotheaded detective Andy Wagner (Daniel Baldwin) peg Sanderson as the chief suspect, of course. But soon Sanderson starts getting phone calls from the killer, who explains that he's going to butcher someone each night to involve Sanderson in a game.
Night after night single young women are killed all over town in the same manner, with a different word written on their walls.
Is there a common link between the victims? Not really, unless you consider that they are all beautiful, single, new in town with no friends and live alone in unprotected apartments. And they just happen to be home when the killer calls on them. If anyone in this movie had friends or family it would upset the plot.
Enter psychologist Kathy Sheppard (Diane Lane, who is married to Lambert in real life). Sedman enlists her aid, and it isn't long before she is romantically involved with Sanderson.
They have walk along the moonlit beach, make love before a roaring fire and exchange banalities. She: "You make me feel things I've never felt before." He: "You should face your feelings."
And Sedman and Wagner play good-cop/bad-cop as they endlessly interrogate Sanderson as their chief suspect. Is he calling himself for those tapped phone conversations?
Of course, it doesn't help that Sanderson insists on taking long walks late at night alone.
All of this plods along until the eventual climax complete with revelations that will have audience members alternately chuckling and scratching their heads.
The only performer to escape with his dignity intact is Skerritt, who moved from this film to "A River Runs Through It" and the TV series "Picket Fences." He's so good that it seems as if he mistakenly wandered onto the set from some other movie.
"Knight Moves" is rated R for three sex scenes, nudity, violence and profanity.