Genre: Action and Adventure
Director: Ariel Vromen
Cast: Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Alice Eve, Gal Gadot
Release Date: April 15th, 2016
“They messed with my brain. Thought they knew what they’d get but they were wrong.” Such is the sentiment of Jericho Stewart, this web the psychotic title character of the new thriller Criminal. His words allude to the film’s intriguing premise but unfortunately, they don’t hint at how such a premise is wasted despite featuring a stellar cast of some the most interesting actors working today. Viewers who see the names of high profile stars on the theater’s marquee might believe they know what they’re going to get if they buy a ticket. Unfortunately, they’re wrong.
In the early part of the story, Ryan Reynolds plays Bill Pope, a CIA operative involved in a dangerous mission. When the mission fails, Pope is murdered. For Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman), his supervisor at the CIA, the news is not only tragic. It’s catastrophic. Pope was the only one working with the enigmatic Dutchman (Michael Pitt), a hacker who has found a way to control some of our world’s most dangerous weapons systems.
To find out the Dutchman’s location (which only Pope knew), Wells enlists the help of Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones), a medical genius who has been experimenting with the ability to transfer memories from a deceased person to a living one. Franks, for some odd reason, suggests that they try to insert Pope’s memories into the brain of a jailed psychopath named Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner).
Because Stewart’s brain hasn’t fully developed (he seemingly doesn’t understand human emotions or the consequences of his actions), Franks thinks Pope’s memories could be more easily inserted in his mind. Later on, they begin to question this idea and in one of the film’s few honest moments, Wells openly asks why they decided to use a crazed killer as a guinea pig.
After the surgery, Stewart breaks free from police custody — who could’ve guessed that a notable nut would use a prime opportunity to run away?— and starts having on-again off-again flashes to Pope’s life. Stewart even breaks into Pope’s house, scaring the grief-stricken widow. With headaches irritating him more and more, Stewart is forced to enlist Frank’s help and has to decide whether or not to follow Wells’ orders.
It’s undeniable that director Ariel Vromen (who previously directed the memorably dark The Iceman in 2012) has recruited an incredible cast fr this project. The issue though is that the script by Douglas Cook and David Weisberg doesn’t really delve into any of these characters. The high-concept is interesting (it has some similarities to the 1997 action blockbuster Face/Off) but it’s built on so many clumsy plot choices that it’s hard to understand why these characters make the silly decisions that they do.
Especially galling is Stewart’s rapidly-changing personality. For the first half of this movie, this character is presented as a Hannibal Lecter-type monster who is so dangerous that even his guards try to steer away from him. As he receives more and more of Pope’s memories, his hard veneer begins cracking and he starts developing human emotions.
“I wish I could keep being him,” Stewart notes about attempting to live Pope’s life.
The concept here is interesting enough for a feature-length movie and Costner does a decent job in the lead role but the rest of the feature is so predictable and forgettable that it’s hard to enjoy the ride. With few memorable action sequences and a clumsily-handled third act featuring Stewart’s personality changing abruptly, it’s hard to take Criminal seriously. These actors and this concept deserved better.
Review by: John Hanlon