2016, R, 113 min. Directed by Ariel Vromen. Starring Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Alice Eve, Michael Pitt, Jordi Mollà, Antje Traue, Scott Adkins, Amaury Nolasco, Danny Webb, Colin Salmon, Gal Gadot.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., April 22, 2016
It’s perhaps unsporting to bring up collateral damage in regard to a disposable shoot-’em-up, but that kind of moral quandary is built into the premise of Criminal, from a script by David Weisberg and the late Douglas Cook (who also collaborated on The Rock and Double Jeopardy) – specifically, what happens when a career criminal and sociopath is implanted with the memories of a far better man. When a character’s arc hinges on parsing right from wrong, isn’t part of that journey accepting the consequences of one’s actions? If he can’t, surely those around him – lots of ’em with badges! – are paying attention? And if not them, is it the audience’s job then to weigh how many good deeds it takes to erase the memory of a ripped-open jugular? Does one crummy time averting a nuclear disaster grant you a lifetime hall pass for killing all those cops?
Truth is, Criminal is a very silly movie that’s smart to, well, look smart-ish – with this moral-imperative premise; a topical storyline about governmental overthrow and cyberwarfare; oodles of high-tech gear; and chyron captions that scream urgency (“Three hours until the Dutchman’s deadline”). That Dutchman is a twitchy hacker (Pitt) looking to sell a program that can control the U.S.’s entire missile arsenal. A dead CIA agent is the only person who knew the Dutchman’s whereabouts, so in a Hail-Mary, experimental-procedure pass, the agent’s memories are transferred to the brain of a bad motherfucker named Jericho Stewart (Costner). (Think that name’s goofy? You haven’t met Quaker Wells yet.) Due to a childhood brain injury, Jericho has no capacity for empathy, but then this nice, dead CIA agent gets his feelings-cooties all up in Jericho’s noggin, and suddenly Jericho can’t go forward with the raping his essential self is so clamoring for.
If by now you’re thinking, This Jericho dude sounds terrible, but he’s played by Kevin Costner, I’m so confused, then: indeed. It’s no wonder that Costner – who’s expanded his repertoire in his later career to include some unsavory characters – would get a kick out of playing a guy with no impulse control. But somebody along the line also insisted he get his last-shot, over-the-shoulder, stud’s long stare – textbook hero pose – and that is a fatally confused look.
That’s not the only confusion here: Professional agents act wildly unprofessional, a doctor walks away from the only test case of his life’s work, and a mother is all, “Sure, I’ll leave my kid alone with a rapey stranger.” Criminal is a perfectly passable thriller, if you’re cool with no one here passing as an actual human being.