When will the hideous violence in American film ever stop? Or is that, sadly, a purely rhetorical question? In Taking Lives, a pregnant woman is stabbed in the belly with a pair of scissors, after having been severely roughed up. The Motion Picture Association of America has given the film an R rating, which may strike some as surprising, as you also glimpse a penis at one point--usually the cause for an immediate NC-17. But you'll be relieved to know that the aforementioned organ is merely attached to a corpse, not--gasp!--any live man.

The pregnant woman, Illeana, is played by Angelina Jolie, who is also an FBI profiler, hot on the trail of a serial killer in Montreal. The criminal may be shifty-eyed artist Ethan Hawke; a fey-acting, art-collecting Kiefer Sutherland, or maybe even Olivier Martinez, as a fellow detective whose French chauvinism irks Illeana. Director D.J. Caruso sets up an initially intriguing premise, however gruesome, that unfortunately devolves into a welter of aimlessness, too many red herrings and B-movie hammy performances. (One example of the haplessness: Illeana has been kicked off the force after her emotional involvement with the killer allows him to escape. She knows he's out there, after her, so where does she hide her pregnant self to have her baby? The most secluded country farmhouse where, literally, no one can hear her scream.)

Amir Mokri's elegant photography is the best thing here, certainly better than Philip Glass' noisome music score. As pure camera subject, Jolie continues to be one of the great beauties of the screen and feistily invests Illeana with some intriguing dark places and humor. She'd make a fit partner with Jodie Foster's Clarice Starling: a real loner, indifferent even to the blandishments of the always devastating Martinez. Hawke does quivering psychopath to a fare-thee-well, but it's a hollow, showy performance. Gena Rowlands is fitfully amusing as the society matron who somehow gave birth to the sickest of puppies.

-David Noh