The film is about the hunt for Suspect Zero, a potential serial killer who is able to kill indefinitely because he is able to remain undetectable by law enforcement agencies. It features various elements from declassified CIA Stargate remote viewing protocols.
Harold Speck, a traveling salesman, is approached by a man in a diner who asks him an uncomfortable question. After leaving the diner, Harold is found dead with his eyelids cut off and clutching a symbol which appears to be a circle with a line through it. The murder is investigated by FBI Agent, Thomas Mackelway (Aaron Eckhart), who was recently suspended for beating a suspected serial killer, Raymond Starkey. Mackelway receives a series of taunting faxes from someone who may be Speck's killer. Meanwhile, kids go missing and we catch glimpses of a big truck. As the investigation proceeds, Mackelway and his partner, Fran Kulok (Carrie-Anne Moss), become aware of the possible existence of "Suspect Zero", a "super serial killer" responsible for hundreds of deaths who leaves no evidence behind to link his crimes together.
Another body is found in the trunk of a car, also with his eyelids removed and cut with the crossed-circle mark. The ownership of the car is traced to a halfway house where a room was occupied by a Benjamin O'Ryan. The agents discover that the room is filled with obsessive-compulsive sketches of the crossed-circle design, a Bible which contains sketches of missing persons, and a book on ritual. Questioning the other occupants of the halfway house, Mackelway is told by one of them the design represents a zero, not a circle. Information sent by the killer to Mackelway leads him to O'Ryan (Ben Kingsley), who believes himself to be a former member of the FBI. The agents must decide if O'Ryan is the key to catching Suspect Zero, or if he is Suspect Zero himself.
Outside a bar, O'Ryan kills a man who attempts to kidnap and rape a young girl. When Mackelway and Kulok arrive, they find that the body belongs to Starkey, who had been released from prison. Evidence uncovered reveals that O'Ryan was part of Project Icarus, a secret government project attempting to cultivate telepathic abilities in individuals (remote viewing) for military purposes. The experiments gave O'Ryan the ability to see the actions of serial killers. These disturbing visions constantly torment O'Ryan and drive him to hunt down the killers. O'Ryan demonstrates that Mackelway shares his abilities to some degree. Neither Kulok or Mackelway's boss are convinced by his theories that O'Ryan is chasing the killer rather than being the killer.
Suspect Zero is revealed to be a man who drives cross-country in a refrigerated truck. He targets children, whom he abducts and transports to his ranch to be killed. Mackelway pieces together evidence linking these crimes by recognizing that victims had signs of freezer burns while being transported. Mackelway chases one truck driver to a carnival, only to find that the child he saw in his vision as "captured" is free. O'Ryan suddenly appears and captures Mackelway. After refusing to be frightened, O'Ryan spares Mackelway. Eventually, the two men track Suspect Zero to his ranch and find numerous shallow graves. Chasing him, both vehicles crash off the road. Kulok manages to free a child in the truck while Mackelway kills Suspect Zero. O'Ryan then tries to convince Mackelway to end his suffering by killing him. When Mackelway refuses, O'Ryan pretends to attack him, prompting Kulok to shoot him to defend her partner.Aaron Eckhart – Thomas Mackelway
Ben Kingsley – Benjamin O'Ryan
Carrie-Anne Moss – Fran Kulok
Kevin Chamberlin – Harold Speck
Harry J. Lennix – Rich Charleton
The film is based on a first draft by Zak Penn. After it was sold to Universal Studios for $750,000, Cruise/Wagner Productions (founded by Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner) became its producers. However the script was put onto the back burner after a deal to make the movie in 1997 with Sylvester Stallone fell through.
After several more years, Cruise/Wagner Productions hired Bill Ray to rewrite Penn's original script. Changes included moving the action from Texas, making the lead character a burned-out, disgraced FBI agent rather than a rookie, and turning a maverick criminal profiler into a psychic with the power of remote viewing.
The film began shooting in New Mexico in 2002. The State was chosen because it offered tax-free incentives and financial funding to film companies using New Mexico. The program was established to entice film makers to the State.
The original release of the film was slated for 2003. However, after it was put back to spring 2004, it was not released until the last weekend in August 2004.
Film review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes reports an approval rating of 18% with a rating average of 4.4/10 based on 129 reviews. Its consensus reads, "Other than Ben Kingsley, there's not much to like in this preposterous thriller." Roger Ebert thought the film confusing, stating "enigmatic flashes of incomprehensible action grow annoying, and a point at which we realize that there's no use paying close attention, because we won't be able to figure out the film's secrets until they're explained to us."
It made less than half its total budget in ticket sales.