Movie Review: Criminal (2016)
“The mission is in the memories.”
Director: Ariel Vroman
Cast: Kevin Costner, Ryan Reynolds, Gal Gadot
Synopsis: In a last-ditch effort to stop a diabolical plot, a dead CIA operative’s memories, secrets, and skills are implanted into a death-row inmate in hopes that he will complete the operative’s mission.
As a general rule of thumb, the probable quality of a movie which is set in the present can be measured by the names given to the lead characters. The sillier the names, the worse the film. Criminal, Israeli-born director Ariel Vroman’s first film since the superior 2012 crime thriller The Iceman, features a highly dangerous psychopath called Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner – JFK, Man of Steel) and a perpetually annoyed CIA honcho, who speaks in a way that suggests all his sentences end in exclamation marks, is named Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Child 44). Enough said.
But silly isn’t bad, necessarily, particularly when a movie has a sense of its own absurdity. Stewart is the kind of psychopath that exists only within the opening and closing credits of a movie. So dangerous that he’s literally chained to his cell, he was thrown from a moving car as a child and sustained damage to the frontal lobe of his brain, which left him incapable of feeling empathy towards others, or remorse over the violent crimes he has committed. When CIA agent Billy Pope (Ryan Reynolds – Adventureland, Deadpool) is murdered by wannabe Bond villain Xavier Heimdahl (Jordi Molla – Bad Boys II, Blow), CIA boss Wells decides that Stewart is the perfect candidate for a groundbreaking, but highly speculative memory transplant procedure which will place Pope’s memories inside Stewarts’ brain. The reason for this extreme measure is that Pope was on his way to a rendezvous with The Dutchman (Michael Pitt), a hacker who has attracted Heimdahl’s attention after compromising the defence systems of the world’s global powers, and Wells wants to locate the dead agent’s memories in order to learn The Dutchman’s whereabouts and get to him before Heimdahl or the Russians do.
When Jericho emerges from the operation apparently unchanged – apart from a banging headache and a few bloody holes in his head – Wells orders him to be returned to his maximum security cell. But Jericho escapes, and Pope’s abstract memories start intruding on his own, providing him with cryptic clues to the location of a bag of money the agent was delivering to The Dutchman in order to secure his cooperation. So, while Wells and his crew continue their search for The Dutchman, Jericho embarks on a mission of his own to recover the money so that he can buy a big TV, only to find that the more that Pope’s memories intrude on his consciousness, the less prepared he is to commit murderous acts.
The biggest problem with Criminal, which is essentially yet another reworking of the Frankenstein story, is that, in the final act, we’re expected to start rooting for a guy who has spent the first hour of the movie severely beating or murdering innocent people, and who looks upon Pope’s gradual modification of his character as a real inconvenience. In order to help us with this, the screenplay makes Wells a character as detestable – for different reason – as Jericho, which means we’re left with four bad guys and no heroes for much of the running time Nevertheless, despite its silly science, its plot holes and its inconsistencies, Criminal is stupidly entertaining, and benefits from an unexpectedly strong cast. Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln, The Family), looking increasingly old and craggy with each passing film, tries not to overdo it too much as the principled surgeon who carries out the groundbreaking surgery on Costner’s hapless villain; Ryan Reynolds lends his increasing box office clout – but little else – to approximately ten minutes screen time; Gary Oldman chews the scenery as he barks such ridiculous lines as “get me in the air! Now!” And “Do not give him the flash drive! He will scorch the earth!” Gal Gadot takes time off from the Fast & Furious franchise to play Pope’s grieving widow, and Kevin Costner, sporting a fearsome Mohican and goatee, proves he’s a far better actor than is required for most of the parts he gets offered these days.
Criminal is the kind of mindless action thriller that can infuriate an audience in the wrong state of mind. But approach it with no pre-conceived expectations, at a time when you’re looking to take your mind off the stresses of the day, and it will probably fit the bill.
(Reviewed 22nd April 2016)