If you were Angelina Jolie, you might take it as a sign that your career is in trouble when you star in a grade-Z serial-killer mystery -- and people still think of it as an Ashley Judd movie. (Were ''Celebrity Deathmatch'' around, the two would be due for a blood bout.) Taking Lives is a ''Silence of the Lambs''–meets–''Talented Mr. Ripley'' knockoff with all the gore and premonitory ''darkness'' and none of the intrigue. I'm well aware that to mock an actress for doing a lousy movie is, in effect, to punish her for the sins of Hollywood (i.e., there are too few good roles for women), but didn't Jolie realize that ''Taking Lives'' makes her look like a sap?
As Illeana Scott, an FBI agent in the Clarice Starling mold, Jolie utters every line in soft, bland, neutral tones, as if any more expression would compromise her authority. Scott, who is helping to solve a series of murders in Montreal, has to endure the taunts of the piggish French-Canadian cops (including a smirking Olivier Martinez); she's another female enforcer in a world of male aggression. But that just makes it more ridiculous when she lets herself fall into bed with James Costa (Ethan Hawke), a high-strung artist who's the chief witness in the case, and maybe even the killer. Didn't she look around and notice the lack of other suspects?
''Taking Lives'' has a garnish of fancy crime-scene ickiness: The killer, before taking over the identity of his victims, likes to mash in their faces, and so there are assorted police photos that feature corpses with heads like hamburger. But after ''Seven'' and three ''Hannibal'' hits, the audience tolerance for baroque serial-killer flourishes has been duly amped. We require sustained creativity in our sick violence, and ''Taking Lives,'' after a token bit of ghastly foreplay, loses its life.