Release date:April 15, 2016
Studio:Summit Entertainment (Lionsgate)
MPAA Rating:R (for strong violence and language throughout)
Screenwriters:Douglas Cook, David Weisberg
Starring:Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Alice Eve, Gal Gadot
If a murderous sociopath unable to feel empathy for more than 5 decades awoke from a medical procedure with the emotion-filled life history of another person now inside his own mind, what would that journey look like? I’m still left wondering, as “Criminal” too easily excuses its anti-hero protagonist from this dilemma. CIA agent Bill Pope (Reynolds) dies with the knowledge of an imminent attack- the details of which only he knew. Yet all is not lost. For the past 15+ years the CIA has funded medical research and experiments headed by Tommy Lee Jones’ Dr. Franks to transfer memories from one mammal to another. Convicted killer, Jericho (Costner), wins the mammal-to-mammal memory transfer lottery thanks to his lacking frontal lobe activity – he was thrown out the window of a moving vehicle as a young child. With the convicted killer now imbued with the insights of deceased CIA agent Pope, the mission to stop the bad guy – a Spanish Anarchist (Molla), and thwart the attack ensues. The dual premise is set up. First, can the CIA prevent an imminent attack with the help of a murderous sociopath? Second, how will said-sociopath transform once deceased CIA agent Pope’s memories intertwine with his own?
Apparently, taking on CIA agent Pope’s life history effectively muzzles the killer but does not trigger a depth of self-reflection. After welcoming himself into Pope’s London family home, tying up his wife, and potentially about to rape her- Jericho exercises restraint – opting to leave Pope’s wife and child unharmed and excusing himself with only a bag of nick knacks that he can pawn for cash. Upon their next meeting, when Mrs. Pope returns home to find the interloper patching himself up in her basement after a gun shot wound – Jericho explains that since her husband could never hurt the family then he, Jericho, could never hurt them. It’s all very business-like and factual from Jericho and devoid of emotion. Yet Mrs. Pope is very easily won over by Jericho’s far-fetched story that her husband’s memories are stored in his brain. The emotional arc and journey rests on the shoulders of Mrs. Pope, well played by Gal Gadot, rather than our lead Jericho. Though Gadot’s acting is lovely – the performance is undermined by the utterly unbelievable circumstances.
It’s a pattern that repeats over and over in, “Criminal” – undermining A-list actor performances again and again by throwing rationality and good sense to the wind. Can Gary Oldman, as CIA handler Quaker Wells, convincingly and energetically interrogate a convict for information of an imminent threat? Yes. But do I think this CIA handler would verbally berate a patient waking up from one-of-a-kind “memory” surgery for a solid 5 minutes, then give up and order the execution of the patient when he didn’t immediately recall that past life of a newly deceased CIA agent that was just inserted into his brain? In a word, no.
All in all, it was wonderful to see Kevin Costner in a new light as the rough and gruff Jericho. Costner sunk his teeth into the role and is entertaining and enjoyable to watch. However, the character arc is vastly underwhelming in relation to it’s potential. Sure Jericho goes from an equal opportunity killer looking out only for himself at all times to a killer of only “bad guys” and selflessly willing to sacrifice for others. But it’s just not enough. Jericho never reaches an emotional catharsis – nor does the audience. Instead, in typical Hollywood fashion, money is thrown at the problem as the film concludes with explosions, car chases, unnecessary wrecks, and missiles rather than good writing. Other than the initial premise and the charming wit of Jericho, the screenplay by Douglas Cook and David Weisberg is severely lacking and there’s no combination of A-list actors that could save this under realized film.