Action, Ariel Vroman, CIA, Drama, Gal Gadot, Gary Oldman, Jordi Mollà, Kevin Costner, Memory transplant, Review, Ryan Reynolds, Sci-fi, Sociopath, The Dutchman, Thriller, Tommy Lee Jones, Wormhole program
D: Ariel Vromen / 108m
Cast: Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Gal Gadot, Ryan Reynolds, Alice Eve, Michael Pitt, Jordi Mollà, Antje Traue, Amaury Nolasco, Scott Adkins, Lara Decaro
Emotionless career criminal and sociopath Jericho Stewart (Costner) has a motto: “You hurt me… I hurt you worse.” It’s tempting to rephrase said motto so that it reflects Criminal‘s effect on its audience: “You trust the movie… and it gets worse.” For the movie is an unappealing mix of action movie, paranoid thriller and sentimental drama, and it tries to be all these things at once, with varied results.
It begins with London-based CIA agent Bill Pope (Reynolds) being followed by a bunch of bad guys led by Elsa Mueller (Traue). He has a holdall full of money, but he manages to hide it. When he’s tricked into making an “escape” to a cement works, he finds himself under fire and eventually captured by terrorist nutjob Xavier Heimdahl (Mollà). Heimdahl (he’s Spanish but his Scandinavian surname elicits no comment from anyone) wants a flash drive that’s also in the holdall; on it is a wormhole program that will give him complete access and control over the US’s weapons and defence system. But Bill keeps schtum and is beaten to death.
But this is the movies and being dead doesn’t always mean being dead. In Criminal, the twist is that Bill’s memories can be accessed and transferred into the mind of another person; in theory, that is. Pioneer scientist Dr Mahal Franks (Jones) has been trying to get permission for human trial for five years, but with the CIA’s London overseer, Quaker Wells (Oldman), desperate to find the program’s creator, a hacker called Jan Stroop aka The Dutchman (Pitt) before he can sell it to the highest bidder (which was Bill before he was killed), he sees no option but to allow Franks to test his theory that transference of memories is possible in humans. But there’s a catch (isn’t there always?).
Franks’ best candidate to receive Bill’s memories is the aforementioned emotionless career criminal and sociopath Jericho Stewart. Currently in prison, he’s dragged from his cell in the US and shoved on a plane to the UK where Franks operates on him. When he comes to, Wells conveniently fills him in on what’s at stake and his part in it all, but Jericho pretends he doesn’t have any of Bill’s memories. Thinking he’s of no further use, Wells instructs two of his men to take Jericho out into the British countryside somewhere and kill him. But Jericho has other ideas, ideas that centre around a holdall full of money…
Criminal is a movie that offers three storylines for the price of one, and while each one would have made a respectable enough impact as a single movie, Douglas Cook and David Weisberg’s script gets so carried away with itself that the storylines tend to trip each other up and get entangled. Storyline one is a standard world-in-peril scenario that gives Gary Oldman the chance to run around and shout a lot about how much peril the world is in, while storyline two concerns Jericho Stewart’s coming to terms with having Bill’s feelings and emotions, two things he’s had no previous use for. And then there’s storyline three, the (very) unlikely relationship that develops between Jericho and Bill’s wife, Jill (Gadot).
It’s this last storyline that’s the most problematic, and not just because on their first meeting, Jericho uses duct tape to tie Jill to her bed before making off with her jewellery. No, it’s the alacrity with which she lets him stay the night when he returns the next time, albeit wounded and showing clear signs that her husband is in his head somewhere. And while Jan Stroop demonstrates his control over the US’s weapons and defence system by firing a nuclear warhead from a submarine in the atlantic, Jericho and Jill (now there’s a name for a spin-off TV series) share chicken and waffles with her daughter, Emma (Decaro). This is the point in the movie where storylines two and three ride roughshod over storyline one – it literally grinds to a halt – and any pretense of Criminal being an action thriller is forgotten.
The movie rights itself, though – thankfully – and Jericho is soon back to letting out his inner rage, and on one singular occasion, in a way that’s uncomfortably, misogynistically non-PC (and he gloats about it too). Unfortunately it’s a moment that not even Costner can rescue, which is a shame as he’s just about the only consistently good thing in the whole movie. From his first appearance as a fuzzy-wigged prisoner in chains, all animal instincts and snarling antagonism – when he’s shot with a tranquiliser dart he merely grunts and says, “You’re gonna need another one” – Costner gives a terrific performance that holds the movie together; when he’s on screen you can’t take your eyes off him, and when he isn’t, you can’t wait until he’s back. As Jericho begins to deal with the onslaught of Bill’s memories and feelings, Costner articulates the pain he feels with conviction and sincerity – and this despite having to deal with some truly lame dialogue.
Elsewhere, Oldman and Jones pop up at various points to push along the basic plot to its unsurprising conclusion, Reynolds contributes what amounts to an extended cameo that anyone could have played, Eve is completely wasted in a role that amounts to approximately five minutes of screen time and a handful of lines, Mollà never gets a grip on his character’s motivations, Pitt has the same problem, Adkins has a supporting role that doesn’t require him to go up against anyone (not even Costner), and Gadot struggles with a role that most actresses would have had trouble with.
Doing his best to make all this fit together in a halfway credible sense is Vromen, whose last movie was the gripping character study The Iceman (2013). He does his best, and the action sequences, despite offering little in the way of original thrills and spills, have a kinetic energy to them that ensures they stand out from the often plodding nature of the rest of the movie… but it’s the generic nature of the thriller elements that defeats him. Danny Rafic’s editing tries to make the movie feel more vigorous than it actually is, and there’s an appropriately dramatic score by Keith Power and Brian Tyler that provides a degree of ad hoc excitement but like so much of the movie, never fully encapsulates the sense of imminent peril Oldman continually shouts about.
Rating: 5/10 – another high-concept idea gets a lukewarm treatment, leaving Criminal feeling undercooked and dragging its heels when it should be embracing its race against time plotting; fans of Costner won’t be disappointed but otherwise this is an action/thriller/sci-fi/drama hybrid that lets its cast, and the audience, down way too often for its own good.