Monday, April 18, 2016

CRIMINAL (2016)

Review originally appeared in Cinema Knife Fight, April 18, 2016

Michael Arruda and I reviewed the action thriller CRIMINAL knife-fight style over at Cinema Knife Fight. I enjoyed this one, especially Costner's amazing performance as a psychotic sociopath killer implanted with the memories of a fallen CIA agent in order to save the world.

(THE SCENE: A hospital room. L.L. SOARES, with bloody bandages wrapped around his head, is tied to a bed. DANIEL KEOHANE enters, dressed as a doctor.)
L.L. SOARES: Where am I? What have you done to me? What did you do with my machete?
DANIEL KEOHANE: All in good time. First you have to answer some of my questions. I am Dr. Gunn, and I have performed major brain surgery on you.
LS: Dr. Gunn? You sure look like Dan Keohane to me.
DK: That’s because I’m not a doctor, but I play one on Cinema Knife Fight. I have put another man’s memories into your brain. He has information about a movie that I need to know.
LS: A movie? I could have saved you the trouble of surgery. I know more about movies than—.
DK: Not this movie. I need to know about the new action thriller CRIMINAL (2016) starring Kevin Costner. You haven’t seen that one.
LS: No, I haven’t. That’s because you and Michael Arruda were supposed to be reviewing—.
DK: Search your memories. Tell me what you see.
LS: Wait a minute. You didn’t—. (Searches his memory and suddenly sees image of a large cream pie being thrown into his face while hearing MICHAEL ARRUDA’s voice, “Take that!”) Come on! You gave me Arruda’s memories! Now I’m infected with his bad taste and nice guy image! How could you?
(MICHAEL ARRUDA enters the room.)
MICHAEL ARRUDA: Did it work?
DK: I don’t think so.
MA: That’s OK. We’ll just tell him all about the movie so he’ll have the memories for us to harvest afterwards.
LS: But it’s my day off! I could have slept late.
MA: Relax. It’ll be fun.
DK (to LS): FYI- this was all his idea.
MA: I’ll start.
CRIMINAL is the new thriller starring Kevin Costner (WATERWORLD, 1995; MAN OF STEEL, 2013) as a death row inmate who, through untested experimental surgery, is given the memories of a dead CIA agent in the hope that he can give the agent’s superiors vital information that said agent would otherwise have taken to his grave.
When the movie opens, CIA agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds, DEADPOOL, 2016) is being chased by the bad guys, and he doesn’t make it, which is very bad for the good guys, because Pope was bringing in a computer hacker who had gained control of the U.S. military’s missile launch system.
DK: Yea, I liked the fact that this movie opens with blockbuster star Reynolds as a sort-of super-spy, only to have him not only killed, but tortured THEN killed in the first ten minutes. Right there, we know this will be at least a somewhat original thriller. Which it was. More than somewhat, actually.
MA: Well, some parts were original, but I thought the overall plot was pretty standard. Anyway, it was nice to see Ryan Reynolds as Bill Pope, but his performance was more of an afterthought, since he’s only in the movie for a few minutes.
Agent Pope’s boss, Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman) recruits Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) to perform experimental surgery on Pope to transfer Pope’s memories into the brain of another man. Franks chooses Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner), a death row inmate and career criminal, because Jericho has a rare brain condition as a result of a childhood brain injury which makes him a perfect candidate for the surgery. Trouble is, the same injury has also made Jericho an unstoppable, unfeeling brutal criminal, who doesn’t know right from wrong, nor does he feel emotion or pain. Basically, he is Michael Myers without the mask. Well, almost.
LS (muttering): Quaker Wells? Jericho Stewart? What kinds of names are these?
MA: Franks performs the surgery, then Jericho escapes, and now armed with Pope’s CIA agent knowledge and skills, sets out to steal the money that Pope was going to use to bring in the computer hacker. Things begin to shift for the sociopath when Jericho visits Pope’s wife Jill (Gal Gadot) and his young daughter.
While neither Gary Oldman (THE DARK KNIGHT, 2008) nor Tommy Lee Jones (MEN IN BLACK, 1997, LINCOLN, 2012) really stand out or do anything we haven’t seen them do before, they are both very good and their presence certainly helps the movie.
DK: I’ve always like both Oldman and Jones, they both have a powerful presence in any film they’re in – Jones usually as the loud, gruff anti-hero and Oldman more understated, but intense.
LS: He was Sid Vicious! (Begins singing “My Way,” then trails off)
DK: Jones’s Doctor Franks adds a lot to the story. He’s calm and compassionate, and seemingly unafraid of anything, including his patient who could rip his head off at any moment. Oldman, however, feels wasted as CIA boss Quaker Wells who mostly runs around yelling at everyone and making bad decisions.
MA: Right. The hacker is still out there with his finger on the button and Wells is going nuts because every move he makes seems to be the wrong one. Meanwhile the main baddie in the movie, Spanish terrorist Xavier Heimdahl (Jordi Molla, RIDDICK, 2013) is intent on finding the hacker, code named “The Dutchman,” so he can gain control of the U.S. military’s missile launch codes and blow up the world.
DK: He even says so, in so many words, in a television interview early on. Talk about cocky.
LS (muttering): Xavier Heimdahl?
MA: And he’ll succeed, unless Jericho, the relentlessly brutal career criminal who’s now armed with CIA agent skills— making him more dangerous than ever—can stop him. And he wants to stop him for the simple reason that Xavier has pissed him off. As Jericho says early in the movie, “You hurt me. I’ll hurt you worse.” Well, Xavier put the hurt on him, and for Jericho, that was enough.
I went into CRIMINAL not expecting much other than I figured it would be mediocre, but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s better than mediocre, and the biggest reason for this is Kevin Costner.
DK: Me, too. I was very pleasantly surprised. It was a pretty original plot and, aside from now and then falling into stereotypical action tropes—like cars blowing up for no good reason—it was a cleverly done film. It reminded me a lot of the new Bond films—less emphasis on sensationalism, more realistic situations and action.
MA: For me, it’s usually hit or miss with Costner. Sometimes I enjoy him, and other times not so much. For example, his recent action thriller 3 DAYS TO KILL (2014) I thought was meh, and he didn’t really do all that much for me in that movie. Yet, he was terrific in last year’s MCFARLAND, USA (2015), and I also enjoyed him in the two thrillers THE NEW DAUGTHER (2009) and MR. BROOKS (2007). Of course, Costner’s career goes way back to THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987) and was followed by a career of hits (DANCES WITH WOLVES, 1990) and misses (WATERWORLD, 1995).
DK: Kevin Costner was amazing in this film. And I haven’t said those words in a long, long time (Granted, I haven’t seen many of the films you just mentioned).
MA: Agreed. Costner knocks it out of the park here in CRIMINAL. I haven’t seen Costner this good in years. Part of the fun is that it’s a role I don’t normally see Costner play. As Jericho Stewart, Costner is in-your-face abrasive, rough, crude, and incredibly entertaining. As I watched him chew up the scenery in a truly gritty and realistic performance, I was reminded of the work of Tom Hardy, who also could have easily played this guy.
DK: Yes! I can see Tom Hardy in this role, no question, but I’m very glad they got Costner. He was able to stretch his acting chops quite a lot here, going from complete, out-of-control psychopath to a very endearing character.
(Door swings open and Tom Hardy’s BANE enters the room. He begins to speak, making unintelligible sounds.)
MA: What?
DK: Huh?
(BANE continues his unintelligible banter.)
(MA slams the door on him.)
MA: Costner is also supported by a fine cast, including Oldman and Jones, but also Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman herself!) as Pope’s beautiful wife Jill. Gadot is not in the movie a whole lot, but when she is, it gets that much better.
DK: When I realized she was in it—having only seen her once before in BATMAN VS SUPERMAN (2016), and liking her brief performance there—I was curious to watch her in another role. Her character was mostly the usual damsel-in-distress one, but she elevated it quite a bit in the scenes with Costner’s Jericho. She’s another actor with a strong screen presence (over and above her obvious beauty), and these two had a good chemistry together.
MA: Jordi Molla is meh as main baddie Xavier Heimdahl. I’ve seen better villains, and I’ve seen worse. Likewise, Michael Pitt (I, ORIGINS, 2014) as hacker Jan Stroop aka “The Dutchman” is also simply okay.
DK: I didn’t like Xavier much. He didn’t really do anything—aside from the opening torture scene—but sit around and try to look menacing. His character was also far too many steps ahead of the CIA throughout for believability, able to track phones and back into Closed Circuit televisions in the city of London and never had a problem hacking into the CIA’s computers whenever he needed to. The Dutchman as a plot device was critical, but he didn’t get enough to do aside from wait around until someone paid him for his little computer virus.
MA: Agreed.
Better than these two are the other women in the cast. Alice Eve (STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, 2013) makes her mark in a brief bit as CIA Agent Marta Lynch who for a time is Quaker Wells’ go-to person before she meets an untimely demise.
DK: Really? Lynch was a forgettable character in my mind. She had very few lines and mostly just followed along behind Oldman’s CIA chief obeying his bad orders. Her demise wasn’t too surprising. CIA operatives dropped like flies in a cold attic in this film.
MA: Even better than Eve is Antje Traue (MAN OF STEEL, 2013) as Elsa Mueller, Xavier’s top assassin. Traue gives the second-best performance in the movie, behind Costner’s, and I really enjoyed her work as Elsa, who was one of the better characters in the movie. Then again, maybe I just have a thing for sexy assassins.
DK: OK, although we seem to agree on most everything else with this movie, we have to part on both of these characters. I have no real gripe with Traue’s performance, not really, but I saw her assassin as mostly comic relief. I even made this note while watching: “Elsa is by far the worst assassin in movie history.” Every single thing she did failed, aside from the initial capture of Pope. There was even a scene with her and Xavier mid-way through when she apologized for all her mistakes, and this psychopath with delusions of Armageddon just hugs her and says it’s okay. If I was a bad guy, I’d fire her. Or at least break up with her for a while so I can destroy the world properly.
MA: And that’s why you’re not a movie bad guy! Are you kidding me? No bad guy in his right mind is going to fire Antje Traue’s Elsa! And as far as being ineffective, she wasn’t any more ineffective than her boss, Xavier.
DK: Hah, good point.
LS (mutters): You don’t fire assassins. He’d kill her!
DK: Be quiet, you.
MA: CRIMINAL has a really good script by Douglas Cook and David Weisberg. It’s chock full of good lines, mostly spoken by Kevin Costner, and the idea behind the story, transferring one man’s memories into another, was pretty interesting.
LS (suddenly lucid) This sounds similar to another movie about transferring memories to a different body—SELF/LESS (2015) —and that one had Ryan Reynolds, too!
MA: If you don’t be quiet, we’ll conk you with a bedpan.
(LS goes back to muttering to himself)
MA: I couldn’t help but think of FRANKENSTEIN while watching this movie. The memory transplant, the brain surgery, the fact that Costner’s Jericho behaves like the Frankenstein Monster, especially how he doesn’t feel emotion and goes about scaring people and beating them senseless every chance he gets. Plus Tommy Lee Jones’ character is named Dr. Franks, which immediately made my Hammer Films brain think of Peter Cushing’s Dr. Franck at the end of THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958).
DK: Wow, I hadn’t made that connection! Good one!
(The window behind LS opens and a HUNCHBACK climbs through the window carrying a glass jar.)
DK: What do you want?
HUNCHBACK: I heard there was an abnormal brain in here.
MA: Yeah, so?
HUNCHBACK: Well, I need one.
DK: Sorry. We’re keeping ours. We like our abnormal brains just fine.
HUNCHBACK: My master will not be pleased if I return empty-handed.
MA: They’re having a presidential debate down the street. You might find some better specimens there.
HUNCHBACK: That would be truly monstrous! Thanks! (Exits through window)
MA: No problem.
Back to our review.
That whole part of the story is really interesting and completely worked for me, mostly because Costner’s performance really brings Jericho to life.
DK: Agreed, even with some small plot holes and characters, Costner’s Jericho—and really, this is the center point of the film anyway—is what kept me riveted. Every scene he was in was fantastic, and that’s not an exaggeration.
MA: The other part of the story, the whole stealing of military secrets and wanting to blow things up, didn’t work as well. That was all standard action movie fare and offered nothing new.
DK: A good example of comparing these two components of the film is in the scene where Jericho wakes up after his surgery and is begging for a painkiller. Meanwhile, Oldman’s CIA chief is interrogating him to find out what he remembers from Pope’s memories. The script uses this scene, and Oldman’s shouting, to give us a pretty detailed background as to what the operation is all about—and I missed most of it, too engrossed was I in Costner’s character on the edge of hysteria and merely wanting something for the pain. He outshined everyone there, to the detriment of us audience members listening to the details of what the movie’s about.
MA: Director Ariel Vromen (THE ICEMAN, 2012) does a nice job, especially with the pacing. This one flew by and I even saw a late show which didn’t start until 10:00 pm. Sometimes these late shows can be brutal, but CRIMINAL held my attention throughout. The action scenes were all decent, although none of them were all that spectacular.
DK: I should point out I liked the music in this film. It’s something I usually don’t notice, but it’s so good here. I’m not speaking of the score by Brian Tyler as much (thought it’s fine), but the songs that are sprinkled throughout. Kind of in a techno-pop vein which added to the overall mood.
MA: By far, the best part of CRIMINAL and the main reason to see this one is Kevin Costner’s completely satisfying performance against type as rough, tough, unstoppable and often insane Jericho Stewart.
DK: Amen, brother.
MA: I liked CRIMINAL a lot, and I give it an enthusiastic three knives
DK: I did too, like you having gone in with no expectations one way or the other. A couple of the characters were flat, but Costner’s (and most of his supporting cast) more than made up for any weak spots. It’s an original, clever film. I’ll give it three knives as well.
MA (looking at L.L. SOARES): Well, what do you think?
LL: (drool runs down his chin, and he says nothing).
DK (looking at the back of LS’ head): Maybe we shouldn’t have left the top of his skull off for so long.
MA (pokes LS’ brain with a scalpel): Hmm, yea, it’s gotten kind of crusty. (Puts skull cap back on and secures with duct tape). That should do it.
LS: Mmmmnnnnnnnn. Fndldrop.
DK: Perfect. He should be fine by next week.
MA: I hope so. We’ve got a lot of movies to review this year.
DK: No worries. He’ll bounce back.
LS: Mmmmmmm. Eeeooooow. Errrrrggg.
DK: Until next time, folks!
LS: Mmmnnnnnn bliff
“Snort.”
—END—
© 2016 by Michael Arruda and Daniel G. Keohane
Michael Arruda gives CRIMINAL~ three knives!
Daniel Keohane gives CRIMINAL~ three knives, too!