Murder by Numbers (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Murder by Numbers is an innovative crime mystery.
Two brilliant idle kids, updated versions of the famous murderers, Leopold and Loeb, decide to kill for fun and the intellectual challenge of it. They study the techniques of criminology to determine how the cops will investigate the case, and then commit the murder in such a way that all the clues will point to someone else.


  • They choose a random victim, so that there is no trail of any kind to either of them.
  • They frame a deranged janitor by leaving behind various clues prepared weeks in advance.
  • They kill the victim in such a way that the deranged janitor will fit the psychological profile the police are likely to assemble.
  • They arrange perfect alibis for themselves.
  • They even leave behind clues that point to themselves until they police find them to be false leads. For example, the bootprints of one of the kids is found on the crime scene. It turns out that he reported those boots stolen three weeks earlier. Of course, they framed the same guy for the theft of the boots as for the murder.
  • They arrange for the flight and "suicide" of the janitor.

They are true sociopaths, with no feeling for the victim or the framed man.

The film is quite strong in both plot and character development:

There are only three important characters, the two kids and the lead detective (Sandra Bullock), and all three are developed in great depth. The film's greatest weakness is that it has a fourth main character, another police detective, who is not only bland, but appears to be there merely as a plot device, to show how Bullock manipulates people, and to show how the kids' plan could have worked perfectly on a superficial thinker. The male detective bought into the solutions the kids had mocked up for a by-the-book investigation, but Bullock hung on for a different solution based on her own psychology, and her knowledge of a person in her past who was similar to one of the killers.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen format (1.85)

  • director/editor commentary

The mystery is interesting even though we see from the outset who did the killing, and we know that the dogged Bullock will bring them down. The scriptwriter makes it all work by keeping us guessing about how the geniuses will get caught, and by pulling a bit of a switch in our expectations of the relationship between the two murderers, accomplished by gradually revealing the precise details of the crime. 

I enjoyed the film, but it sure lacks energy. These are some of the most laid-back actors ever. I think Ben Chaplin actually fell asleep a few times, and he was delivering his lines at the time.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: no consensus. Just about every possible note on the scale. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 2.5/4, BBC 2/5, Apollo 70/100, 1/5


The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 6.2/10, Guardian voters 7.9/10, Apollo voters 67/100
  • with their dollars: a massive loser. Why did they need $50 million to make this film? Was it all in salaries? The film grossed $31 million domestically, meaning it lost the studio a bunch of money at the theatrical level.


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C. Interesting approach to psychological murder mystery, but very low in energy.

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