'Gone Girl'

Ben Affleck plays a husband who quickly falls under suspicion when his wife disappears
MISSED OPPORTUNITY: Ben Affleck plays a husband who quickly falls under suspicion when his wife disappears.

David Fincher's bitter, would-be decadent mystery, taken from a too-schematic script by author Gillian Flynn, almost seems like it's going to be about the schism in Middle-America between indebted haves and the wraith-like homeless have-nots. It's most interesting when it gets closest to that cliff-steep divide; the poor folk are photographed as if they were zombs, haunting the boarded-up downtown and the busted empty mall in Carthage, Missouri (the film was shot in Cape Girardeau). Gone Girl's sourest turn may be the way a fleeing, formerly trust-funded wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) collides with a working class lady hanging out at an Ozarks cabin resort: "only connect" doesn't work here.

Has Nick (the ever-bored Ben Affleck) murdered Amy, a super-achiever from New York, reduced to backwater idleness in a Missouri mini-mansion? Police detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens, the movie's highlight) thinks so. So does the deceased's wealthy, creepy ex-boyfriend (Neil Patrick Harris, who detects the odor of cheese in this script and goes full-on ratty). So, also, do a pack of vengeful afternoon TV hosts: Missi Pyle is the Valkyrie one, Carrie Coon is the soulful, caring, staring one.

Though it's modeled on the Laci Peterson murder, the movie takes a moonshiner's turn as the victim narrates what actually happened. It's a liability if you saw the movies Fincher sources: mostly '80s bunny-boiler melos, though higher-rent critics will point to Leave Her to Heaven. (Hardly.) If the feminist appeal of gynophobic material was meant to be bumped up, they should have done without the casting of Tyler Perry (an inert, TV-sized performer) who plays what's meant to be a larger-than-life lawyer.

As they say of a football player after a losing game, Pike gives 100 percent, in bloodbath and cold-blooded social scenes alike; it's about time her frost and her impassive brown eyes got more play. There are moments where the horror goes appropriately outsized, as when Amy is stuck, penniless, at a truck stop; the diesel behemoths seem to be roaring back-up vocals to Trent Reznor's ticks and scratches soundtrack. But hardly anyone seems to be able to disrupt Affleck's deadfaced cool, and no one seems less able than Fincher to find a way to wield this movie-star shaped object. Affleck's limits as an actor have never been more obvious.

Gone Girl

R; 149 min.

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