Mr. Brooks (2007) /Thriller-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for strong bloody violence, some graphic sexual content, nudity and language
Running time: 120 min.
Cast: Kevin Costner, William Hurt, Demi Moore, Dane Cook, Danielle Panabaker, Marg Helgenberger, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Aisha Hinds, Lindsay Crouse, Jason Lewis, Reiko Aylesworth, Matt Schulze, Yasmine Delawari
Director: Bruce A. Evans
Screenplay: Bruce A. Evans, Raynold Gideon
Successful Portland businessman Earl Brooks (Costner, The Guardian) has it all -- an adoring wife (Helgenberger, In Good Company), a job he is well respected for (indeed, he's Portland's Man of the Year), and more than enough money to last a lifetime. He's also an addict -- an addict of killing. He's the serial murderer known as the "Thumbprint Killer", who poses his victims postmortem and the only prints found belong to those of the victims. He's tried to quit, and has been successful in abstinence for two years, but Marshall (Hurt, The Good Shepherd), Earl's alter ego, continues to pester him to keep it up.
He's back off the wagon with a new killing, a couple of dancers he murders in the midst of lovemaking. He makes his first careless mistake, not realizing that he commits the heinous deed in full view of a window with the shades open. Initially not too disturbed about it, he soon pays the price, as a visit to his office from a man calling himself "Mr. Smith" (Cook, Employee of the Month) reveals that a photographer from across the street has evidence of the events. However, Mr. Smith doesn't want money in exchange for not going to the cops -- he finds the killings thrilling and wants to be there for the next one.
Meanwhile, police detective Tracy Atwood (Moore, Bobby) has been trying diligently to crack the Thumbprint Killer case, but she is constantly distracted by problems of her own. Another killer she had been responsible for putting away, "The Hangman" (Schulze, Torque), is now out and wants revenge. Apparently, she's a multimillionaire heiress, who does the job because she likes it.
Here's a thriller that tries a little too hard, ultimately sinking from too many needless story elements and characters piled on for little discernible payoff. What starts out as an interesting study on a serial killer's obsession with the thrill of the kill ends up loading on another random person who wants to piggyback on the deeds, while another is injected in the form of Earl's daughter, Jane (Panabaker, Sky High), who apparently may have had the murderer gene passed to her during another part of the film. That's three people with a thirst for leaving dead bodies around, and possibly four if you consider Marshall, the voice in Earl's brain that keeps egging him on, or five if you consider the Hangman.
I complained recently that the third Pirates movie, At World's End, was not much story, merely one plot development after another in order to keep generating momentum without having much of a clear destination in mind. I think that the same thing could be said about this thriller. There looks like there could be a story here, or at the very least, a character study of a killer conflicted by his addiction to killing and his conscious knowledge that what he does will destroy his world. With just one or two interesting story developments, this angle would have been enough to coast to the finish line.
One of those developments is the introduction of the neighbor who liked what he saw in the killings, and wants to see more. It's a farfetched plot angle, but since you're never quite sure if it's a con job on the part of Mr. Smith, you can suspend disbelief for the sake of seeing where things will lead. The other development you may not mind as much is the police investigation to catch Mr. Brooks. It's a given in any serial killer story that there will be someone out to get him, usually explored to give the threat of capture at any moment.
However, dolloped on to this are completely absurd plot angles that only increase the characters and plot, without generating any additional momentum or interest whatsoever. In fact, they distract the film's focus to the point of making the entire film practically meaningless.
Here are a few of them for further illustration:
AA Meetings. Mr. Brooks apparently gets some satisfaction by attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for the two years he has kicked the killing habit. The strange thing is that he never reveals the nature of his addiction except to state he is an addict to the rest of the support group. No mention as to what he is addicted to or what he does to cope. For years, the phrase, "I'm Earl Brooks, and I am an addict" is sufficient. Interestingly, he chooses a support group for people who overcome physical dependence on a drug, while his is psychological. Oh wait, perhaps it is genetic -- he can't help who he is! (see "Jane's addiction" below).
Marshall. Mr. Brooks talking to his subconscious is an interesting development at first, potentially paying off if we were to potentially discover just why this driving force in his mind looks like William Hurt. However, we never really are given any real clues, merely having to take for granted that someone could have an imaginary friend that he talks to at length who comes up with insights that Mr. Brooks cannot seem to think of on his own, and who remarkably seems to also have information Mr. Brooks was never privy to. The script explains about as much about Marshall as Mr. Brooks does in his AA meetings.
Atwood's fortune. It's one thing for the cop on the case to want to catch an elusive killer because it's her job - she's paid to do it. It's another to introduce the fact that she is worth $60 million. After years of not having the slightest clue as to who she is after, perhaps she isn't all that good at her job, I'm thinking. Her investigative work consists of openly accusing someone like Mr. Smith because she has a hunch he is hiding something, without much of a discernible reason as to why. It is revealed later in the film as to why she keeps her job as a cop when she doesn't need to, but the answer (which really isn't much of a spoiler, but since it's the ending, I won't reveal it), is as confusing as the rest of the film.
Atwood's divorce. It's one thing to show the police investigation in trying to crack the serial killer case, but it's quite another to also give so much screen time to the lead detective's divorce proceedings. It's not enough to just have her going through the divorce proceedings, but we must endure asinine developments such as haggling for the final sum for the settlement. Does anyone really need to know whether it's 5 million dollars or 2.5?
The Hangman. In another futile plot development, Atwood is being chased around by another killer, out for revenge for putting him away. The contrived way that it becomes merely fodder for Mr. Brooks' next killing, literally happenstance while casing another vehicle, stretches credibility beyond the breaking point.
Jane's addiction. Earl's daughter is apparently dropping out of school because she says she doesn't need college. Then she says she is pregnant. Will she abort or will she not, that seems to be the question (Earl has no problem killing innocent people, as long as that person isn't his future illegitimate grandchild). Then there is a killing tied in that may or may not have something to do with her. Earl suspects Jane is a killer like him, and that she may be toying with the notion of killing her own father for money...or just for the rush...who knows? It's just in her blood, the movie suggests -- no other reason necessary.
Earl's photography. It seems Earl likes to take pictures of his victims in various poses. Why? So he can squat naked in front of his fancy furnace later and burn them all. Really, the only reason for this angle from a story standpoint is to give the cops a reason to further suspect Mr. Smith as the culprit later.
Mr. Brooks is an exercise in the ridiculous, a mish-mash of ideas that build upon each other to create the appearance of structure without having a blueprint. Costner has apparently rumored that this film could be the first of a trilogy, and if that is the reason for all of the superfluous subplots, then the film is even worse than I think. With so much time spent on Atwood and her personal life, it feels more like a pilot for a TV cop show than a major motion picture event. While film series about serial killers are not uncommon (think Hannibal Lecter, Norman Bates, Tom Ripley, etc.), films that set up future chapters without any idea of whether or not it will be successful enough to generate continued interest show the pretentiousness of the filmmakers, who obviously think they have a great masterwork on their hands.
Au contraire, Mr. Brooks is bad, laughably so from my perspective. For a film without a blueprint of its own, it does manage to serve as a blueprint on how not to make a thriller for all future filmmakers to follow. Like the prints left around the various crime scenes, Mr. Brooks is all thumbs.
©2007 Vince Leo