If He Only Had a Brain …
by Glenn Lovell
If you can buy Kevin Costner as a grim-faced Frankenstein’s monster enlisted by the CIA to battle an evil anarchist holding the world to ransom, you might enjoy Ariel Vromen’s “Criminal,” a fast-paced but formulaic blend of espionage thriller and sci-fi. I didn’t buy the usually sympathetic Costner’s image makeover. Not even for a second. Which made this noisy time-killer seem both soporific and silly.
Costner grunts and sneers a lot as Jericho Stewart, introduced with great fanfare on death row, sporting the shoulder-length locks of a wild man. Stewart, we’re told, lacks even a shred of conscience or empathy; he kills with impunity. Said mean streak has something to do with a childhood trauma and undeveloped prefrontal cortex.
But not to worry. Tommy Lee Jones neurologist has been tinkering with a top secret operation that will allow the government to harvest and transplant memories. And Jericho’s empty noggin makes him the perfect receptacle when a super-agent (Ryan Reynolds) dies before he can reveal the whereabouts of a cyber thief, aka “The Dutchman,” who has created a wormhole program that will enable the owner to launch NATO rockets and plunge us into World War 3.
Phew! Got all that?
Director Vromen, who showed promised with the overlooked true-life crime biopic “The Iceman,” uses this convoluted plot — a fusion of “Con-Air” and John Woo — as an excuse for a lot of torture, gun-battles and chases through midtown London. Costner — attempting to channel John Malkovich at his most eyebrow-arching malevolent? — gives it his all as the killing machine who taps into new, unexplored emotions to bond with Reynolds’ widow and daughter. But we never begin to root for or pity his government guinea pig. (The array of ratty toupees, from Samson tresses to government-issue brush cut, doesn’t help.)
Jones and Gary Oldman as the apoplectic CIA chief fare worse. Jones as Dr. Franks (short for Frankenstein) sleepwalks through a film he obviously couldn’t care less about, and Oldman, always prone to overacting, shouts a lot to reassure us that he’s in control.
CRIMINAL ✮1/2 With Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, Gal Gadot, Ryan Reynolds. Directed by Ariel Vroman; scripted by Douglas Cook, David Weisberg. 113 min. Rated R (for violence, torture, profanity)