‘Saw’ sequel ‘Spiral’ tracks a serial killer who targets crooked cops:

But for slasher fans, it’s been there, “Saw” that.

Chris Rock stars as Detective Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks in “Spiral.”

While a few of the nine “Saw” films have been successful, they have typically been places where actors’ careers die (and get disemboweled). The series has largely been ignored by celebrities. “Spiral,” the most recent entry, distinguishes itself by including Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson, two artists whose careers have not yet been severed.

This film, subtitled “From the Book of Saw,” was created by Rock, though his idea isn’t as original or shocking as the ones that have marked the best in the gruesome series. In both, a jaded yet inventive sadist called Jigsaw creates complex traps to execute wrongdoers in gruesomely specific ways, such as a liar having his tongue cut out. Jigsaw died a few films earlier, but his tactics live on in “Spiral,” a modern assassin who kills corrupt police.

Several films have already addressed the concept, but “Spiral” seeks to draw on current news about poor cops, which makes it a queasy atmosphere beyond what audiences tend to get in films of families being torn apart. “Saw” films have always toyed with the fact that we’re torn between needing criminals to survive and feeling, to some degree, that their fates are undeserved. However, the pseudo-topical feature of “Spiral” detracts from the excitement and this does not seem to be the appropriate setting to discuss police transparency.

Darren Lynn Bousman, who directed “Saws II-IV,” clearly knows this territory, navigating easily from one crime scene to the next and including a subtle homage to the first “Saw” that fans would enjoy.

As a second-generation officer enduring an acrimonious relationship with his father (Jackson), Rock is much more authoritative here than he was in the most recent season of “Fargo,” clearly conveying the costs of a role that brings him into touch with evil almost every day. And Jackson’s laid-back wit is still appreciated.

The rest of the cast isn’t as solid, but that may not be such a bad thing. Any of them won’t be around for long.

Chris Hewitt • 612-673-4367

Spiral

⋆⋆ out of four stars

Rating: R for gruesome violence, strong language, and drugs.

Theater: Wide release.

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