CRIMINAL – Review
The incoherent mess known as CRIMINAL is rescued from disaster by a game cast. Seasoned pros join hot younger stars to elevate a ridiculous script, keeping what could have (and should have) been a train wreck mostly on track and lending CRIMINAL far more credibility than it deserves.
CRIMINAL opens with a gritty chase through the streets of London that ends with CIA agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) murdered by having a cattle prod shoved down his throat by the sinister “Spanish Anarchist” Heimdahl (Jordi Molla) and his vicious moll Elsa (Antje Traue). But Pope’s now-dead mind is full of critical, earth-saving info involving his interactions with “The Dutchman” (Michael Pitt), a nut who has hacked his way into the controls of U.S. nuclear missile silos and will start WWIII unless his demands, mostly involving a passport and a big bag of cash, are met. Pope’s CIA superior Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman) hires Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones), the brains behind a secret mind transference project, to plug Pope’s memories into the brain of someone else. When Wells asks Dr. Franks (as in Frankenstein) if he has a subject in mind, the answer is “Yes, but you’re not going to like him”. That’s because, according this movie’s dopey logic, the only candidate in the world to be on the receiving end of Pope’s thoughts is death-row inmate Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner), a lunatic sociopath so dangerous he lives shackled, Hannibal Lecter-like, in double-secret solitary confinement (we’re never told why a more stable subject isn’t chosen, or one already in London, since they have to fly Jericho there from the U.S. even though time is running out). The operation is a success but Jericho tricks Wells and Dr. Franks into thinking it’s a failure and on his way back to prison, escapes and goes hunting for that satchel of cash that Pope’s memories tell him is stashed somewhere near a row of vintage George Orwell novels. He visits Pope’s widow Jill (Gal Gadot) who immediately buys his farfetched tale (Him: “Tonight is chicken and waffles night” – Her: “Wow! My husband’s mind really has been injected into that scar on the back of your neck!”) She and her young daughter Emma (Lara Decarro) join Jericho for a series of progressively incomprehensible plot developments.
CRIMINAL is initially audacious and intriguing – but ultimately bogged down by its preposterousness as the overstuffed narrative become more and more ludicrous and confusing. It’s never clear how exactly Heimdahl and his goons fit into the Dutchman’s plans. Neither Kevin Costner nor the script ever seem to have a real grasp on how much of Pope’s mind Jericho is sharing his noggin with at any given time. Jericho is a step ahead of the CIA and Heimdahl’s army of well-organized villains on his tail one minute, and mumbling dumb like Billy Bob Thornton in SLING BLADE the next. There may be philosophical questions lurking beneath the surface of CRIMINAL, but they’re mostly avoided in favor of bloody action sequences with blazing guns, car chases, explosions, action and plot directions that make the head spin. The only fantastical aspect of the film is its brain-transference concept, and everything beyond that is taken from a conventional action film template (spoiler alert: Jill and Emma are kidnapped by Heimdahl !).
It’s the cast however, that makes CRIMINAL watchable, though perhaps in a sort of ‘guilty pleasure’ way. Costner is never convincing as a man in another man’s body, but he doesn’t have to be. Scowling and growling like a grumpy Clint Eastwood, Costner has a lot of fun with the role and the audience has fun along with him, watching Jericho bashing in teeth and even murdering innocents just to steal their food or their cars. Gary Oldman, a long-term devotee of the art of ham, screams and spits and rolls his eyes like a champ. Challenging him in the overacting department is Michael Pitt who delivers his character’s manic dialogue with nutty aplomb but he spends almost the entire movie alone in a hotel room which just makes his approach that much odder. Tommy Lee Jones is the laid back one, but he disappears for much of the film while Jordi Molla makes for a hissable villain and gets to deliver some of the film’s best howlers like “If you’d kept better track of the Dutchman, we’d have the wormhole by now!” Gal Gadot looks good in a standard part but isn’t given much to do. Alice Eve is wasted as a doomed CIA agent, while Antje Traue makes the best impression of the three women as a sadistic henchwoman. After THE CHANGE-UP and SELF/LESS, this is the third Ryan Reynolds body swap film. You’d think he’d know better but this one won’t hurt his career. Keep expectations low. CRIMINAL isn’t good…..but it’s a good time.
(a generous) 3 of 5 Stars