PLOT: A murdered CIA agent's memories are transferred to the brain of a brutal psychopath in the hopes he'll be able to relay pertinent information to the dead man's superiors. When the convict escapes - with the CIA and international terrorists on his tail - he finds his previously pitiless nature changed by newfound feelings of empathy.
REVIEW: Suspension of disbelief is nothing I have a problem with at the movies, but when a film is so riddled with holes and plot conveniences as CRIMINAL, I start mentally pointing at the screen and laughing at it. A movie that feels like it was made using a script found in Luc Besson's trashcan, it manages to take a topnotch cast and make almost all of them look thoroughly desperate; surely none of these actors have fallen on such hard times that they must resort to this silliness? So it goes that CRIMINAL, directed by Ariel Vroman (THE ICEMAN), is so ludicrous that you're constantly taken out of the action, unable to allow yourself to just go with the flow. If it didn't have this impressive cast, it would be headed straight to DVD starring Val Kilmer and 50 Cent.
The film begins with the death of CIA agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds, who must have wanted to spend a weekend in England), who, after making a deal with a dangerous hacker called The Dutchman (Michael Pitt), has been targeted by evil anarchist Xavier Heimdall (Jordi Molla). The Dutchman has the power to launch almost any nuclear weapon in the world at his fingertips, and Xavier wants that power for himself (so he can sell it to "the Russians," naturally). With Pope dead, CIA boss Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman) needs the info from his brain to capture The Dutchman and thwart Xavier, so he calls on brilliant neurosurgeon Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) to transfer Pope's memories into another human, who will then spill all of Pope's secrets. (Shouldn't the CIA have been well aware of Pope's plans?) Dr. Franks has just one candidate in mind: the evil convict Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner) who, thanks to brain damage he sustained as a child, has the ideal noggin for the task at hand. (This is where you think, "Really? They can't find anyone else in the world who's a suitable candidate? Has to be the murderous psychopath?")
Of course, the surgery is a success, with Jericho - previously a stone cold killer without emotion - receiving flashes of Pope's memories. And, of course, he escapes custody, and proceeds to run rampant throughout London while trying to find a bag of money Pope was going to use to bribe The Dutchman. Jericho now has the CIA and Xavier's unending stream of henchmen to deal with, and as the stakes get higher, he begins to feel things he's unfamiliar with: Empathy, compassion, fear. Helping to provoke these emotions are Pope's grieving wife (Gal Gadot) and daughter (Lara Decaro); at first Jericho is perfectly fine kidnapping and harassing them, but ultimately is shocked to find he cares about them.
Honestly, the premise is the least preposterous thing about CRIMINAL. I'm willing to buy any wacky plot if the movie does fun and interesting things with it (FACE/OFF immediately comes to mind), but CRIMINAL somehow manages to take this ambitious concept and thoroughly waste it by giving us over to humdrum action scenes, lame comedic bits (Jericho beats up a lot of people for laughs) and tension-free drama. Every character in the movie is apparently dumb or blind; the CIA is presented as being utterly incompetent, while even the villains - who are supposedly evil geniuses - are constantly making head-scratching choices. (Both Jericho and the villains cut a swath of mayhem throughout England with nary a concern for being seen or recorded; thankfully, the CIA can never find anyone in time.) As the improbabilities build up, the suspense diminishes, and all you have are good actors saying and doing foolish things, which just gets depressing after a while. And 113 minutes is a long time to spend in the presence of goofy rubbish.
I'll hand it to Costner, he appears to be having at least a little bit of fun with Jericho, as he growls, spits, sneers and barks every line. (Yes, he's pretty much an angry dog in this movie.) The character may not be especially well-crafted, but Costner is an inspired choice and he doesn't phone it in. Oldman, as can be expected, overacts abundantly, screaming like a lunatic whenever possible. His character is so high-strung and inconsolable you wonder how he rose up the ranks to his current position. Poor Tommy Lee Jones wears an expression that consistently says "is it naptime yet?" in a role that screams "paycheck, now." He looks so despondent you just want to sit him down and put a blanket over him. (At some point I realized Costner, Jones and Oldman are all in JFK. How times change.) Pitt barely attempts a Dutch accent as a character nicknamed "The Dutchman." Gadot isn't bad, but her character is patently ridiculous and irresponsible. She's the kind of mom who lets her little girl play with the man who almost killed them both a few nights earlier. Oh, Alice Eve and Antje Traue are also in it, barely getting anything to do.
I did laugh a few times during CRIMINAL, and though the laughs were unintentional on the movie's part, you've got to take what you can get amid such a mess.
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