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PSYCHO THRILLER

"Don't Say a Word" is a dark and nifty thriller with a ridiculous but enjoyable premise: Can a gifted child psychiatrist, quite literally, practice his profession under the gun? That is, can he come in cold on the case of a young girl in and out of institutions for 10 years and uncover, through a kind of crash therapy, a piece of crucial information buried in her early trauma, thereby saving the life of his own kidnapped daughter?

Absurd? Of course. But reasonably absorbing, nevertheless. His patient is a lovely but troubled young woman who once saw her father murdered. There's a six-digit number in her head. If the kidnapper can get the doc to get it out of her, he'll recover a stolen ruby and let the doc's kidnapped daughter live.

It's based on an Andrew Klavan best seller, was directed by the director of the sleeper hit "Kiss the Girls" and stars Michael Douglas, who is, along with "Kiss" star Morgan Freeman, the gold standard for this sort of movie.

Nobody is more unassumingly fine at this sort of thing than Douglas: the kindly professional demeanor, the ease and familiarity with which he drives gold Land Rovers and negotiates a well-appointed office and apartment, the cheerful leer with which he offers to give a sponge bath to his beautiful wife (Famke Janssen), who's laid up with a badly broken leg.

Put it this way, not only is this role not a stretch for Douglas, it's not even a brisk walk in the park. It's the kind of role he owns, as the current cloudland slang has it.

Nor is he the only winning actor here. His young patient is played by a lovely young actress named Brittany Murphy, who looks a little bit like Calista Flockhart after a few pancake breakfasts. I've never seen her before, but she's got miles of presence. This sort of madhouse part isn't easy to negotiate with aplomb. We're told, before we see her, that it took five men to subdue her and that she inflicted enough damage on another to cause 115 stitches.

So somehow, despite her pallor and frailty, she's got to suggest enough derangement to do all that. But she's also got to keep from overdoing it and flinging herself around her hospital room like a capuchin monkey on uppers. Credit the young actress and her director with a vaguely plausible and touching performance.

When the shrink comes close, at first, to the information he so desperately needs, she says, "I'll never tell" in a kind of sing-song childish bleat. (You can hear it in the TV ads.)

The finale, quite literally, takes place in Potter's Field, the cemetery for unknowns and indigents.

Which brings up an interesting point. It's a very New York movie in appearance, location, etc. There's even a prescient line in this movie which uses the phrase "ground zero."

What will be fascinating to see this weekend is if audiences can respond to the chilling but standard evil in this movie when they've just seen the results of evil on an unimaginable scale.

A well-made, solid and pretty dandy thriller in any case.

DON'T SAY A WORD

STARRING: Michael Douglas, Famke Janssen, Brittany Murphy and Oliver Platt

DIRECTOR: Gary Fleder

RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes

RATING: R for violence, rough language and dark content

THE LOWDOWN: A child psychiatrist has to cure a patient to save his kidnapped daughter.

e-mail: jsimon@buffnews.com

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