Directed by Ariel Vromen.
Starring Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, Gal Gadot, Tommy Lee Jones, Michael Pitt, Amaury Nolasco, Antje Traue, Alice Eve, Jordi Molla, Scott Adkins, Natalie Burn, Robert Davi, and Ryan Reynolds.
In a last-ditch effort to stop a diabolical plot, a dead CIA operative’s memories, secrets, and skills are implanted into a death-row inmate in hopes the he will complete the operative’s mission.
At least Criminal makes it clear what kind of illogical, loopy brain-dead experience will unfold, as it begins with protagonist (more like sociopath recruited for a government experiment to do some good) Jericho (Kevin Costner in what is easily the most ugly, gruff, and violent role of his long-running acting career) narrating to the audience his creed, which is literally “You hurt me, I hurt you worse”. That’s the kind of screenwriting (one of its writers actually penned Michael Bay’s The Rock) on display for this flick. The real blow isn’t that Criminal is an onslaught of nonsense, but that with another rewrite, it probably could have been a memorable action film more along the lines of John Woo’s Face/Off rather than last year’s dud Self/less.
To be fair, the first 30 minutes or so are actually really good, briefly establishing reasons why Jericho is an emotionless ruthless murderer, and why he is a good candidate for the procedure that will see a dead CIA operative’s memories (Bill played by Ryan Reynolds in a glorified cameo) implanted into his own brain. Even the science itself, which is completely absurd throughout the surgery, is fun to watch as scientists toss around technical jargon, hoping that the script’s attempts to get audiences to buy into what is transpiring works. Gary Oldman is also here overseeing things (although he has the very stupid name of Quaker Wells) without remorse for the well-being of the death row inmate, while Tommy Lee Jones plays a scientist named Dr. Franks (get it? Frankenstein! What intelligent writing…) at the complete opposite of the spectrum, calm and collected.
The movie just quickly falls apart when the experiment seemingly doesn’t work, as Jericho, who is presumably one of the most dangerous men in the world, is then sent back to the penitentiary, being accompanied by just two police officers. Keep in mind, he was brought into the laboratory via chopper and surrounded by extreme measures of security. Shocking no one, he escapes (brutally murdering the cops), and then starts experiencing abstract flashbacks of Bill’s family and wife. Meanwhile, Gary Oldman and Tommy Lee Jones devolve into absolutely worthless caricatures, with the former shouting every line, and the latter delivering a performance so quiet and lacking in both character and charisma, there is just nothing to take away. They are two sides of a coin; too loud and too silent, both signifying nothing of substance.
Kevin Costner does get to showcase a somewhat broad character though. It’s tough to cheer on his more violent acts; just when you think Criminal is entering cliché genre territory by having Jericho come into contact with the family of the man whose memories he is inhabiting, instead of explaining the whole mess, he decides to tie up wife Jill (Gal Gadot) and menacingly extort information. That scene in question is where the movie will begin to lose the majority of its viewers, even if it is made clear that Jericho isn’t dealing with a full deck.
However, there are some great comedic moments of Kevin Costner balancing two personalities (multiple languages begin naturally coming to him, and at one point he speaks French while acknowledging publicly that he is speaking Spanish). Even though the character does come around, becoming a good guy doing good things (if you consider that a spoiler you probably haven’t seen more than five movies in your life), it’s hard to forgive some of the more dastardly things Jericho does, especially considering they make for some really stupid scenes later in the movie (he confronts Jill again, who instead of just shooting him on sight, begins to hear him out). Overall, the character does elicit mixed feelings from viewers, which is a feather in Criminal‘s faded, ripped-apart-by-dogs cap.
Normally, I don’t like discussing too much of a film’s plot, but in this case it definitely was necessary to convey just why Criminal isn’t very good. The writing is constantly shoddy, leaving characters behaving in unbelievable ways and/or doing really stupid things. All of this comes without even discussing the real villains of the movie, who have the most generic motivations for this genre, with a terrorist screaming every line and engaging in completely unrealistic computer hacking. The only awesome villain is Man of Steel‘s Antje Traue, once again excelling in the silent head-henchman role; she should receive more action roles honestly. Regardless, just about every 10 minutes, you will take issue with the script.
What’s reassuring is that if you leave your brain at the door, Criminal can be fun popcorn entertainment; it’s extremely bloody and reminiscent of action movies from the 80s and 90s, Kevin Costner makes for a good badass and could find somewhat of a career resurgence doing more similar action films, all coming with some solidly directed car chases and shootouts. Also, the fact that the other half of the movie is just people screaming lines at each other ensures that boredom rarely settles in, even if the movie is definitely a tad bit too long. Still, I really wish the cinema just would have accidentally showed the far superior Face/Off.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★