Oscar winning film director Kevin Costner hasn’t made a good action movie like “Criminal” (*** OUT OF ****) since he co-starred with Kurt Russell in the eccentric Las Vegas-heist caper “3000 Miles to Graceland” where robbers were Elvis impersonators. “Criminal” washed the sour taste of dreadful epics like “Three Days to Kill” and “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” out of my mouth. Aside from his supporting roles in good movies like “Man of Steel” and his cameo in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” most of Costner’s actioneers have been forgettable. Basically, he hasn’t made a good movie in 16 years, at least nothing that matches his better films, including “Message in a Bottle,” “13 Days,” “Waterworld,” “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” “No Way Out,” “The Untouchables,” “Silverado,” and “JFK.” Yes, I enjoyed “Waterworld.” In “Criminal,” Costner gets a chance to shine with a performance that ranges back and forth from one end of the spectrum to the other end. Mind you, “Criminal” isn’t going to clinch Costner an Oscar. Nevertheless, this contrived but entertaining memory swap movie is provocative enough to watch more than once. The London settings add a touch of exoticism, and the cast boasts Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, Gal Gadot, and Ryan Reynolds. Clearly, Ryan Reynolds must have made this movie before “Deadpool” smashed global box office records. If you’re a Reynolds fan, you’re going to be enormously disappointed with his peripheral role. Indeed, had “Deadpool” not become the sensational hit that it did, Reynolds might have been reduced to minimal roles like “Criminal.” Interestingly enough, Reynolds starred in a movie about a year ago with Ben Kingsley where he played the guy who acquired the memories from another man. “Selfless” was a terrific movie. Ironically, the roles are reversed for Reynolds in “Criminal.”
London-based CIA agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds of “The Proposal”) has stashed a cunning computer hacker, Jan Stroop, alias ‘The Dutchman’ (Michael Pitt of “Seven Psychopaths”), in a safe place until he can conduct the million dollar deal that the Agency has promised Stroop. ‘The Dutchman,’ it seems, has pulled a “War Games” and has hacked through the Pentagon’s firewalls so he can launch weapons of mass destruction whenever and wherever he pleases. The Agency is not alone in their pursuit of Stroop. Insane anarchist Xavier Heimdahl (Jordi Mollà of “Colombiana”) has been tracking Pope so he can find ‘The Dutchman.’ Heimdahl’s right-hand man, actually an indestructible, trigger-happy dame, Else Mueller (Antje Traue of “Seventh Son”), has been maintaining surveillance on Pope. She nabs Pope with Xavier’s henchmen, and Xavier personally tortures Pope in the worst way possible to learn the whereabouts of ‘The Dutchman.’ Although he shoves a taser into Pope’s mouth and singes him to death, Xavier cannot get a useful word out of him. The CIA careens onto the scene at the last moment, but Pope is kaput. What began as an Edward Snowden type thriller takes a crazy swerve into science fiction as the CIA bring in a neurosurgeon, Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones), who has been tinkering with the concept of transferring the memories from one man to another person. All this reminded me of the recent predicament that FBI found themselves in with a terrorist’s iPhone. Anyway, with clinical trials years away, Franks manages to appropriate Pope’s memories and transfer them intact into another man’s mind. “Criminal” shifts gears as swiftly and abruptly and goes from probable to improbable. The CIA hopes that this new guy will be able to lead them to whenever Pope has hidden Stroop before Stroop either gives himself up to the Russians or Xavier’s henchman can find him. Meantime, Stroop aims to prove to the world that he can really hack U.S. military technology with an example of his derring do.
If the CIA and Western Civilization weren’t in dire straits enough, the man selected by Dr. Franks for the memory transfer turns out to be a psycho afflicted with a condition known as “frontal lobe syndrome.” Meaning, prison inmate Jerico Stewart (Kevin Costner of “Wyatt Earp”) has no feelings one way or another and does whatever he feels when the occasion arises. Basically, he is a loose cannon without a qualm. The experiment succeeds and Jerico suffers intervals when he speaks French that he has never spoken and has access to Pope’s memories. He enters the correct security codes to Pope’s London apartment and questions Pope’s suspicious wife Jill (Gal Gadot of “Batman v Superman”) about a case containing millions of dollars. Originally, Pope had planned to use this money to pay off The Dutchman, but everything fell through after he died. Initially, Jerico wants the loot for himself. As the plot of this 113-minute, R-rated epic thickens, he decides to do the right thing. Incredibly, he wants to pick up where Bill Pope left off, and Pope’s adorable daughter Emma (newcomer Lara Decaro) takes a shine to Jerico.
The pair who penned the Sean Connery & Nicholas Cage thriller “The Rock” were the minds behind “Criminal.” Scenarists Douglas Cook and David Weisberg also collaborated on the Tommy Lee Jones & Ashley Judd thriller “Double Jeopardy” as well as the Patricia Arquette crime comedy “Holy Matrimony.” “Criminal” shares similarities with “The Rock.” First, when we are introduced to Jerico, he is locked up in maximum security and sports shoulder-length hair, just as Connery did in “The Rock.” Against everybody’s objections, Jerico is recruited for this radical experiment. Like the Connery hero in “The Rock,” Jerico is a Houdini of an escape artist, but he doesn’t give a crap about anybody but himself. Second, the man-in-the-middle of “Criminal” is as amoral as Ed Harris was in “The Rock.” The Harris character threatened to launch missiles, and ‘The Dutchman’ is prepared to wield the Pentagon’s doomsday arsenal against it. Essentially, the similarities end here. Of course, “Criminal” is incredibly far-fetched, especially its happily ever after finale, but “Iceman” director Ariel Vromen never lets the pace slacken and stages several exciting action scenes.
“Your imagination can take you where nothing else can.” Van Roberts