R, 113 mins.
2016, R, 113 mins.
Kevin Costner as Jericho Stewart / Ryan Reynolds as Bill Pope / Gary Oldman as Quaker Wells / Tommy Lee Jones as Dr. Franks / Gal Gadot as Jill Pope / Alice Eve as Marta Lynch / Scott Adkins as Pete Greensleeves / Michael Pitt as Jan Stroop
Directed by Ariel Vromen / Written by Douglas Cook and David Weisberg
funny thing happened to me about 20 minutes into watching the new
action/espionage thriller CRIMINAL.
It soon dawned on me that the rather impeccably assembled cast in the film have all been in super hero films from Marvel and DC. Doing some quick witted mental gymnastics, I realized that CRIMINAL stars Commissioner Gordon, Two Face, Deadpool, Jonathan Kent, Wonder Woman, and Faora-UI. That’s actually pretty cool. Unfortunately, it was also at this precise point during my screening when I also began to realize that I simply didn’t care about anything that was happening in CRIMINAL beyond the cast’s comic book movie connections.
That’s not a
good sign at all.
CRIMINAL is a
movie that’s desperately trying to be so many different types of movies
that it ultimately forgets to simply be a good…movie.
It’s part action film, part spy thriller, part high concept/far
fetched science fiction, part morality play, and all parts muddled and
confusing. The fact that it
contains established and revered professionals with innumerable Oscar
wins and nominations between them is all the more depressing
considering the end result. Perhaps
ever sadder is the fact that the highly competent Israeli-born Ariel
Vromen - whom a few years ago made one of the best films of 2012 in
fact-based hitman drama THE ICEMAN, -
directs CRIMINAL without displaying
much aptitude for narrative focus, character dynamics, and action beats.
The resulting film is so egregiously all over the place that I
began to wonder by the time the end credits rolled by whether or not
Vromen was just half-heartedly invested in the proceedings to collect a
hearty paycheck and move on.
opening sequences are arguably its most enthralling, but it pretty much
qualitatively snowballs down from there.
London based CIA agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds, in a role
that’s a borderline cameo and yet inexcusably prominent in all
advertising materials for this film) finds himself embroiled with
Dutch hacker Jan “The Dutchman” Stroop (Michael Pitt), a man that has
a dangerous wormhole-like program that would prove dangerous in the wrong,
nefarious hands. Pope
smuggles the Dutchman away as part of an agreement that will give the
hacker a new identity and millions of dollars if he coughs up the program
to Feds. Unfortunately, Pope
is tagged by Hagbardaka Heimbahl (Jordi Molla), a fanatical Spanish
businessman that unleashes his minions on Pope and ambushes him before he
can successfully finish his deal with the Dutchman.
With Pope dead and out of the picture, bureau chief Quaker Wells
(Gary Oldman) tries to piece together what’s left of Pope’s failed
Hope, alas, is
not lost, as Wells has a rather ingenious – but wholeheartedly
implausible – trick up his sleeve to secure vital Intel that’s still
trapped in Pope’s mind. Wells
secures brilliant neurosurgeon Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones), a cutting
edge scientist that has
successfully migrated memories from one brain to another…but only in
lab rats and without any human trials. With
time not on their sides, Wells forces Franks to transfer Pope’s memories
(his brain has been electrically kept alive) and transfer them to the only
other human host that neurologically (at least as far as this film
explains) can accept the transfer, a violent and imprisoned sadist named
Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner). You
see, his frontal lobes have left him incapable of feeling any kind of
sympathetic emotions, which essentially allows for him to be the most
appropriate guinea pig for Franks' procedure.
Rather disastrously, Jericho manages to escape custody after the
surgery is performed…and then begins to see flashes of Pope’s
memories, especially those of his wife (Gal Godot) and his daughter.
Predictably, things get extremely complicated for all.
CRIMINAL is an
extremely silly and nonsensical movie when it boils right down to it.
I have nothing inherently against goofy movies that require me to
suspend my disbelief to limitlessly high levels.
Unfortunately, CRIMINAL treats its cockamamie premise about as
morosely and seriously as a heart attack, all but eroding any sort of
perverse fun one could have with such preposterous material.
Since the film takes the ultra solemn approach, it should have at
least engaged in some thoughtful and philosophical commentary on the
nature of transplanting memories from “good” man and into a “bad"
man and all of the deeper implications that such a transformation brings.
Good science fiction films would ruminate on whether or not Dr.
Franks' Frankenstein-ian (no subtlety with his name there at all)
experiments are worthwhile and/or ethical at all.
Funny, but for a film that treats its premise seriously, it never
once seriously investigates it at all.
And whom exactly
am I supposed to root for in this film?
Outside of Pope’s wife (played compassionately by BATMAN
V SUPERMAN’s Gal Godot), there’s simply no one in CRIMINAL
that deserves and earns my sympathy.
Gary Oldman’s chief wants to maliciously murder Jericho within
minutes of Franks' surgery seemingly baring no instant results, which
leaves him off my list of characters worthy of supporting.
Jericho himself is a real conundrum in the film.
I’ve always admired Kevin Costner as an actor that compensates
for his lack of thespian range with his ability to instill in his
characters a plainspoken, everyman-like earnestness that makes his
performances feel so invitingly lived-in and authentic.
Even when the actor has played morally questionable characters in
films as of late I’ve always found myself invested in them.
I don’t think that Costner has even been more toxically
dislikeable in a film than he is here in CRIMINAL.
Jericho is a repellent and sociopathic a-hole that’s
frustratingly played by Costner with a one-note and cartoonishly gravel
voiced timber that suggests that he’s the love child of Christian
Bale’s Batman and Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry.
When the film pathetically tries to provide Jericho with a
redemptive character arc it rarely feels justified or earned.
He’s simply a brutally hostile and deranged thug that’s
impossible to identify with on any tangible level, leaving CRIMINAL
feeling hollow minded and dramatically inert.
But this cast
assembled...hot damn! The
trifecta of Costner, Jones, and Oldman, of course, all appeared together
decades ago in Oliver Stone’s JFK, so the initial novelty of seeing them
all assembled again on the silver screen is a giddy one, to be sure. Mournfully, CRIMINAL’s ill-defined screenplay gives none of
these actors anything of weight to work with.
Outside of Costner’s teeth gratingly obnoxious work here, Oldman
obligatorily chews scenery by yelling and screaming a lot, hoping to make
up for scripting deficiencies, whereas Jones appears so cold, distant, and
distracted throughout the film that it comes across like he’s phoning it
in because of some sort of contractual obligation that he visibly appears
to have regretted while appearing on camera.
The only thing we are really left with are the film’s action
sequences, which are messy, chaotic, and favors blood spewing gore over
well orchestrated thrills. You
can tell when a director is really struggling with the material given in
an action thriller when he clumsily falls back on numbing barbarism and
CRIMINAL is a criminally wasteful effort for all involved. It wastes the established talents of not only Vromen in front of the camera, but also of it’s remarkable cast of industry veterans in front on it. With lesser stars, the resulting film would barely fit the moniker of a forgettable and disposable VOD effort. CRIMINAL is the kind of pointless exercise that you won’t think about minutes after exiting the cinema, but it will make you think about the finer films its cast were in before it.
That’s a big positive…I guess.