Criminal (2016) / Thriller-Action
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence and language throughout
Running Time: 113 min.
Cast: Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, Gal Gadot, Tommy Lee Jones, Jordi Molla, Ryan Reynolds, Antje Traue, Michael Pitt, Alice Eve, Scott Adkins, Lara Decaro
Cameo: Piers Morgan, Robert Davi
Director: Ariel Vromen
Screenplay: Douglas Cook, David Weisberg
Review published April 21, 2016
It's perhaps fitting that the generically titled Criminal's plot centers around a man who is, literally, conflicted about who he is supposed to be when the film itself suffers from the same conflict. Directed by Ariel Vromen (The Iceman, Danika), working from a script by Douglas Cook and David Weisberg (Double Jeopardy, Holy Matrimony), the film is all over the place -- at times an action vehicle, an espionage thriller, an exploitation revenge flick, a sci-fi b-movie, a popcorn blockbuster, and an emotional family drama -- but rarely are any of those places where one wishes it could be. Some pretty good actors do they best they can trying to sell a misplaced James Bond-ian plot, forced motivations, and unconvincing dialogue. Individual moments work, but only the smaller ones, as the entire movie threatens to tank whenever the ludicrous premise comes back to remind us that we are watching one spectacularly idiotic movie.
Criminal starts with Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool) as a CIA superspy named Bill Pope (Costner, Batman v Superman), on assignment in London, soon finding himself surrounded by murderous assassins working for an international super-terrorist from Spain named Xavier "The Anarchist" Heimbahl (Molla, In the Heart of the Sea). Heimbahl is looking for a man named, Jan "The Dutchman" Stroop (Pitt, I Origins), who is a genius hacker who has managed to infiltrate American defense systems that control the launch and destination of nuclear missiles, hoping to rid the world of the governmental/corporate chokehold that he thinks is responsible for all of the world's ills. Pope is tortured for info, then offed, but Pope's boss in the CIA, Quaker Wells (Oldman, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), knows that nearly every life on Earth may hang in the balance of getting information Pope had, deciding to throw a 'hail mary' by bringing in a scientist named Dr. Franks (Jones, The Homesman) to perform the first human memory transplant from one human to another.
Enter violent psychopath Jericho Stewart, a lifetime ne'er-do-well who has been selected as the recipient of Pope's memories, thanks to a traumatic accident that left him with a less-than-developed frontal lobe, though that 'clean slate' also means he has a lack of morality or emotion as a result. After the operation, Wells grills the new hybrid, but the mentally jumbled Jericho manages to escape, with a tenuous grip on his sanity, and an implanted memory of a tote bag full of cash, that propels him to finish the job Pope was meant to, though his newfound knowledge makes both government agencies and terrorist organizations as big a threat to his continued existence as Jericho does to the public at large.
Costner jumps into the role headfirst, stopping just short of Nicolas Cage crazy, retaining a shred of humanity, thanks to Pope's conscience, that make him the most repulsive anti-hero to still end up rooting for (given that Cook and Weisberg also wrote the screenplay for Michael Bay's The Rock, it should come as no surprise to learn that they scripted with Cage in mind). The normally surefooted Oldman overacts, Tommy Lee Jones sleepwalks, and Ryan Reynolds is so insignificant one wonders why they even bothered casting someone of his widespread appeal, in addition to making one wonder why he has appeared in another "memories implanted into someone else's body having to hurry to complete a quest before one of his two sides is gone forever" plots just a year after Self/less. Only Costner and Gal Gadot (Triple 9), who plays Pope's grieving widow, manage to emerge with performances that bring things to life, especially when they play off of each other.
Criminal could have worked if someone at the helm would have realized that the plot didn't need to put the world on the brink to have tension; keeping things personal would have been infinitely more convincing, such as just having psycho Jericho have to save Pope's family from harm. Given that Costner and Gadot are the best things going for the film, it could have been passably recommendable as a modest action-thriller, instead of just an overblown and overlong one that's only fun to occasionally jeer. As it stands, it's too wildly farfetched to take seriously for even a second, relegating whatever stakes the film tries to build up as nonexistent.
The film seems to be setting up for the possibility to make this into an absurd action franchise featuring a loose-cannon special agent with an uncontrollable temper, but most who see Criminal will think they should lock any unproduced scripts they have in store away and toss away the proverbial key, as the memory of this entry fades with each passing day.
©2016 Vince Leo