Following his dramatic TV turn in “Fargo,” Chris Rock expands his portfolio again with “Spiral: From the Book of Saw,” an extension on the eight-movie-old “Saw” franchise. But this attempt to stitch together the horror staple and a “Seven”-like detective thriller flatly misfires, yielding a not-sequel that finally feels like putting lipstick on a pig mask.
Samuel L. Jackson also lends his name to the effort, in a smallish role as Rock’s father, a former top cop in a police department that’s generically known as Metro PD.
Dad has retired, but his son Zeke remains on the force, despite having been treated as a pariah for having reported a corrupt colleague, a wrinkle that brings to mind the old Chuck Norris movie “Code of Silence.”
The film opens with a positively gruesome sequence, during which what’s described as a Jigsaw copycat captures a police officer, putting him through the customary “Saw” choice between enduring something horrible and dying. The killing strikes close to home for Zeke, who soon enters into a cat-and-mouse game with a psychopath preying on cops, who, as is so often the case in these affairs, somehow seems to be everywhere at once.
“Spiral” occasionally escapes its narrow arc when Rock and Jackson snipe at each other, or when Rock has time to riff by, say, musing about “Forrest Gump.” Beyond that, almost everything feels hackneyed, including Zeke breaking in a new partner (“The Handmaid’s Tale’s” Max Minghella) and getting barked at by his boss (Marisol Nichols).
Otherwise, director Darren Lynn Bousman (a veteran of three “Saw” sequels), working from a script by Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger, appears duty-bound to keep plunging back into obligatory torture territory, building toward a conclusion that manages to be as unsurprising as it is unsatisfying.
The “Saw” movies have obviously possessed a loyal following, so the impulse to keep mining that vein — and plenty of other veins — is hardly a shock. Horror also represents one of the logical genres as the movie industry tries to lure people back to the collective experience of theaters.
“Spiral,” however, doesn’t chart its own course as much as simply try to have it both ways. And if the title implies a certain motion, the main direction the movie heads is essentially down the drain.
“Spiral: From the Book of Saw” premieres May 14 in theaters. It’s rated R.