I like Kevin Costner, but it would be hard for anyone to argue that he hasn’t been in some rubbish in the latter part of his career (and the mere mention of Waterworld is enough to summon unfortunate memories for a certain portion of cinemagoers). His performance is Criminal is a good one that harks to his skill, but the film itself is sadly uneven, going through the motions despite the potential of its set-up.
Our film kicks off following a CIA agent named Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds), who dies on his way to a secret location to meet a hacker who is able to launch missiles at will. Needing his whereabouts, Pope’s CIA supervisor Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman) turns to an experimental neurosurgeon (Tommy Lee Jones) who has been working on transferring memories from one brain to another. Their chosen Guinea pig is Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner), a violent death-row inmate with an underdeveloped brain that affected his emotional development and impulse control. With Pope’s memories grafted onto his mind, Stewart must race against time and try to foil a global criminal conspiracy.
Criminal has a really interesting sci-fi premise, but it fails to explore in any real depth – admittedly, the focus of the film is more on Costner’s character and the action, but this aspect of the film is essentially an expositionary speech and a bunch of memory flashbacks. As such, it somehow teeters between incredibly silly and incredibly serious, and not to any positive degree, creating a silly level of narrative holes as it does.
Costner is on good form here, turning in one of his best performances in a long while and clearly relishes the chance to be an evil character. His Jericho is a character who evolves throughout the narrative from one who feels nothing and doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong to one who starts to care about people due to the effect of Pope in his mind, and Costner imbues his performance with enough nuance to convey this. And it’s fortunate that he does, because Pope serves only as a plot device (his presence on-screen coming solely from the fact he is played by Ryan Reynolds) and thus it is hard to feel any emotional connection to him or towards his family.
The rest of the cast is similarly undistinguished. Oldman plays his leadership role as well as always, and Tommy Lee Jones was clearly just here for the paycheck – he stands around looking as grizzled as ever, and that’s about it. Gal Gadot plays Pope’s wife, but doesn’t have must to do aside from trying to force the emotional angle that isn’t quite there (the moment Jericho starts to connect with her, his character becomes far less fun). And the less said about the non-entity villain, the better – he’s a suit with insane computer skills who is boring as anything.
A lot of critics have complained about the gratuitous violence, but that’s half the fun of the movie – we get to ride along in the giddy amorality of the violence, with Jericho murdering people for the sheer joy of it (of particular note is a scene in which he beats up three people mercilessly to steal a van). In contrast, a lot of the action sequences are incredibly generic and the movie uses them too intermittently to generate any sense of kinetic energy.
Criminal is fun to watch but ultimately quite forgettable. Costner is a watchable presence and he gives the film his all, but his performance is unable to really compensate for uninspired plodding of the cast, the mundane action scenes and the incredible level of ropiness. Don’t expect too much, and you’ll have a laugh watching it.
Director: Ariel Vromen
Cast: Kevin Costner (Jericho Stewart), Gary Oldman (Quaker Wells), Tommy Lee Jones (Dr. Franks), Ryan Reynolds (Bill Pope), Jordi Mollà (Xavier Heimdahl), Gal Gadot (Jill Pope)
Running Time: 113 Mins