Poor Kevin Costner. Once one of the most ridiculously powerful and privileged stars in Hollywood, it’s hard to imagine the guy could sink any lower. Aside from his sad-eyed cameos in Zack Snyder’s superverse, the actor now almost exclusively works in trash. Specifically, he’s started headlining bargain basement action movies with scripts that he would have used to insulate the walls of his second yacht back in the 1990s.
Costner’s recent trip to Besson-land for ‘3 Days to Kill‘ was pretty rough, but even that has nothing on ‘Criminal’. Despite featuring an inexplicably strong cast, the film opens with a premise that makes ‘Face/Off’ sound smart and then nosedives into dull, dreary, action movie stupidity from there. Worst of all, it’s not even ludicrously bad enough to qualify for accidental laughs. No, this flick is just a big ol’ waste of everybody’s time.
Things kick off with Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) speeding around London as a super powerful and awesome CIA agent who will clearly be the lead of the movie and couldn’t possibly die. Then he’s murdered by a Spanish anarchist and the audience is left in a state of shock. Don’t worry, though! Pope’s boss (Gary Oldman) has a plan. You see, the CIA has funded a secret medical experiment that involves implanting the memories and skills of one person into another person’s brain. Sounds ridiculous, I know. Thankfully, Tommy Lee Jones plays the scientist in charge of the operation. You can trust Tommy. This thing is legit.
Unfortunately, for the operation to work, they need a subject with a very specific type of frontal lobe and the only possible option is a psychotic (i.e. bearded) criminal named Jericho Stewart (Costner), who’s currently under extreme lockdown. Everyone is doubtful, but there are lives at stake so they do it. At first, Stewart claims the operation didn’t work, but they let him wander out into the world unsupervised anyway. Soon, he starts speaking in foreign languages that he never learned before, and eventually some of Pope’s memories (conveniently, mostly involving the specific case Pope’s boss is working on) flood his head. Do you think getting good guy brains injected into a villainous skull might mean that the bad guy could become a good guy? I’m just not sure…
So… yeah… it’s just as dumb as it sounds. Possibly even dumber. The big question that kept floating through my mind throughout the film’s interminable 113 minutes was how it was possible that actors like Costner, Oldman, Jones, Reynolds, and Gal Gadot could possibly have signed up for this nonsense. Clearly, these are all people who have read scripts before. Surely they must have been able to work out that this wasn’t a good one. Perhaps they thought it was a comedy? Perhaps they signed on for a different script and then got a switcheroo when they arrived on set? Or maybe (and this is sadly the most likely scenario) this was the highest paying project available to these actors at the time and they just didn’t care. Regardless, ‘Criminal’ qualifies as a low point in the careers of everyone involved. It’s a dumb premise treated intensely seriously by the stars and director (Ariel Vromen, who made ‘The Iceman’ and should know better), and all of the potential cartoony fun was sucked out of the proceedings in favor of lots of brooding.
The worst offender is sadly Kevin Costner. He only plays good guys, so probably relished the chance to try on some bad guy shoes. Unfortunately, his performance is defined pretty much exclusively by a raspy voice that even Christian Bale would consider a step too far. He glares and scowls until it’s time to gradually grow into old-fashioned Kevin Costner, only with a bad haircut and worse voice. It’s pretty sad.
Tommy Lee Jones sticks to a slight frown for all his scenes with no variance. It’s likely how he felt about the movie, so points for honesty. Somehow, Gary Oldman manages to retain his dignity while barking orders and observing action scenes from a safe distance. I’m not sure how he pulled that off. I suppose it’s a testament to his extraordinary talents. Oldman just can’t be bad in a movie, even when everything else around him is abysmal.
As for Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot? Well, they aren’t really on screen long enough to be worth mentioning. They were clearly shot out at top speed for maximum pay, but to their credit, they both appeared to try, even if their efforts were in vain. There was no saving this turkey.
Aside from the slumming stars and overriding sense of serious stupidity, there really isn’t much else to say about ‘Criminal’. The movie is a mess, pure and simple. This must be the result of a high concept action script that was too dumb to get a greenlight in the ’90s, and sat around long enough that eventually some desperate producers tried to launch it with fading stars as a nostalgia act. Had it been treated tongue-in-cheek or at least featured Nicolas Cage, there’s a chance it could have been a laugh riot. Unfortunately, director Vromen decided to play it straight, giving the world the gritty ‘Face/Off’ reboot nobody ever asked for or desired. It’s a big waste of time and talent that won’t even please the irony crowd.
‘Criminal’ is a movie best forgotten. Given that it sat on a shelf for over a year before barely receiving a release this week, it’s safe to say that even those involved would rather forget its existence. The good news is that the film’s one-way trip into obscurity has already begun. This movie won’t even be a footnote or pub trivia answer. The only time anyone will ever speak of it will be when they want to get under Kevin Costner or Tommy Lee Jones’ skin. Even in that case, the chances of the actors remembering this mess will be slim.