Criminal and all the images you see in this review are owned by Summit Entertainment
Directed by Ariel Vromen
While Michael Keaton is out there making his comeback off of Birdman and Spotlight, one of his leading man contemporaries of the nineties, Kevin Costner, is trying to rebuild Is career off of Superman cameos and sports movies. Sure, Michael Keaton was in the Need for Speed movie and the Robocop remake, but at least he’s spending his time in between cash-in movies doing Oscar caliber work to keep himself respected in the industry and not just relevant at the moment. Still, Costner has some serious talent and seems to be working towards artistic relevancy even if it hasn’t panned out so far so there’s hope yet that he can get back to or even surpass his peak relevance when Dances with Wolves was tearing up the Oscars. Will Criminal be the movie to bring Costner back to leading man status, or will this be yet another mistake to knock him down a peg toward total irrelevance? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins with good ol’ Ryan Reynolds as a secret agent (again) who’s doing all sorts of spy things without any real context for the audience. He’s carrying around a bag of money with a passport inside, so clearly this is some sort of rainy day fund for either himself or for someone else. It’s clear that that rainy day has come however as he’s being tailed by a red headed bad guy (Antje Traue) who’s working for the main bad guy Xavier Heimdahl (Jordi Mollà) and they’re trying to stop Ryan Reynolds from… doing whatever it is he’s doing. He does the best he can but I’m guessing the guy was shooting during his lunch breaks from Deadpool, so he gets caught and murdered by the bad guys within fifteen minutes of the film, though apparently without giving them the information they needed. The CIA, whom Ryan Reynolds was working for, is uber-pissed about all this and the head of this branch (Quaker Wells played by Gary Oldman) which for some reason is based out of the UK (okay…) needs whatever information Ryan Reynolds was hiding from the baddies. So what’s the BRILLIANT idea that he comes up with? Well… Get a world renown doctor in the field of memories (Dr. Franks played by Tommy Lee Jones) to do a SUPER SCIENCE EXPERIMENT where he essentially transfers the memories into another person. Who’s the vessel for these new memories though? Well for reasons (sciency reasons I’m sure), they need someone who’s frontal lobe isn’t working properly and the only person they could find is a psychotic and ultra-dangerous criminal by the name of Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner) to play along with their Frankenstein plan and not try to escape at the earliest opportunity. Oh wait. After the surgery he does just that. Whoopsie daisy. So now we got a career criminal with CIA memories, a bad guy looking to take over the world, and I think the Russians are in the mix as well; all of whom are gonna give the CIA and Gary Oldman a brain aneurysm before this day is over. Will the lost memories of Ryan Reynolds be enough to save the world from Xavier Heimdahl? Will Jericho get over his angst and brooding long enough to not let the world be destroyed? Who thought this was going to work? Like… at all?
Holy hell was this movie a piece of crap! At its best, it could have been a meh spy movie that no one will remember but also one that people wouldn’t get pissed about. It’s too bad the script writers were either incompetent or worshiped the ground Kevin Costner walked on because there’s one giant malignant tumor of an issue with this movie, and that’s the central god damn character. It’s baffling how hard they try to simultaneously sell this guy as an amoral monster while also framing him as a reluctant hero with a heart of gold and the tonal dissonance is unworkably jarring. What ultimately results is a movie with no likeable characters, a horribly contrived plot, and some startlingly tone deaf moments; all wrapped up in competent if uninspired cinematography and decent acting across the board. They crossed their T’s and dotted their I’s in making this an actual film, but the terrible scrip on hand didn’t even deserve that much.
So I mentioned that the main problem is the story with Kevin Costner being the focal point for all the contrived madness. Let’s start with the premise, which honestly isn’t all that bad. A guy is given the memories of someone else so that he can solve whatever mystery the dead man was working on. Okay, not bad. That might as well have been a Philip K Dick short story, not to mention that I find it quite hilarious that Ryan Reynolds is basically playing the Ben Kingsley role from Self/Less in this movie. You’ve got your protagonist, a bad guy, a ticking clock, a scientist to explain everything, and a grouchy official of some kind to keep the hero in check. The movie has all of that, but none of it is executed in any satisfying or engaging way, and it really does feel like the reason why was because they were working around Kevin Costner’s poorly written character to somehow make it work. Kevin Costner does a solid job here throughout as an emotionally dead hard ass that pretty much embodies the idea of Chaotic Evil as we see him steal from, assault, and murder innocent people just to get what he wants, but a likeable protagonist that does not make.
The problem is that this guy is framed as the hero, or at the very least an anti-hero. It just doesn’t work because the character is too damn despicable to root for and goes so far over the top that you start questioning everyone’s actions around him. Why did Tommy Lee Jones only have this ONE GUY to use as a test subject who is so dangerous that he’s literally chained up in a jail cell because the prison doesn’t know what else to do with him? Why did Gary Oldman go to through all this trouble of getting this scumbag and the doctor to do their mad scientist scheme to then IMMEDIATELY send him back to jail after five minutes (and no answers), other than to have an excuse for Kevin Costner to escape? How is it that not a single person in this movie has peripheral vision or a sense of hearing whenever he’s around considering how many people he gets the drop on in this? For the love of all that is good in this world, WHY WOULD RYAN REYNOLDS’S WIDOW (Gal Gadot) PUT UP WITH HIM IN THIS MOVIE!? That’s where the tone deaf part comes in! Since Kevin Costner has Ryan Reynolds’s memories, he knows where his family lives and all their security codes. He then proceeds to tie up the wife and rob them, but then an hour later in the movie she comes back into the picture and swiftly becomes endeared by him. It’s not like she didn’t see his face when he was robbing her. She KNOWS this is the same guy, and yet she doesn’t call the police or even put up much of a resistance when her daughter starts to inexplicably like him. It’s unbelievably uncomfortable to watch someone who for all intents and purposes is a serial killer be treated like a wounded puppy or a mean guy who’s actually a big softie.
Had this been framed properly, it could have worked and the rest of the movie wouldn’t have had to bend backwards to try and accommodate this useless protagonist. While watching this, I was somewhat reminded of King of the Ants, at least as far as Kevin Costner’s character is portrayed, and that is a damn fine movie that properly portrays it’s protagonist as the monster he really is. Hell, as mediocre as Self/Less was, it did a solid job of portraying Ryan Reynolds (playing Ben Kingsley’s character in his own body) as a reasonably nuanced anti-hero with a solid if hokey character arc. Here though? Whatever hokeyness was present that movie is blown out of the water by the sheer stupidity of the cleanly wrapped ending of this film that was only missing an “And they all lived happily ever after” title card; all of this for a character that is impossible to like.
Even if you can get past the sheer douchebaggery of the main character, there’s still a lot lacking in this story to keep you interested. The villain’s motivations are hammy and on the nose with it being some New World Order bullshit that’s not explored in the least and is just a checklist of topical clichés. The CIA is even worse though because all Gary Oldman does is yell, miss obvious clues, underestimate everyone around him, and be a prick to everyone around him. It’s ridiculous to the point that you almost expect there to be a twist where he’s working for the bad guys, but something that would be too smart for a movie this lazy.
So is there anything good in here? Not really, but there are parts that don’t suck. Like I said, the cinematography is competent and the acting is fine across the board with Kevin Costner as a stand out. As much as I don’t like his character and how they’re framed here, he does a good job playing an older scumbag. Sort of like if Liam Neeson’s character from Taken wasn’t, shall we say… taken at face value (nyuk-nyuk-nyuk). He even has some decent action beats in here that MAY only exist because the bad guys do something really stupid every time he’s around (“let me just turn my back on this guy for a full twenty seconds during which I’m SURE he’s not gonna try anything”) but are well executed with a fight over a van being a highlight. Also, I’m rooting for Gal Gadot to succeed because I want that Wonder Woman movie to NOT suck, and I think she does just fine here, but I REALLY want her to take a role with a lot more bite before seeing her don the costume again. There’s just not a lot for her here outside of being a sad widow and putting too much trust in Kevin Costner’s character.
I don’t know where this movie came from or why it was made. Maybe the star power of Kevin Costner is enough to get even the worst straight to video scripts into theaters, and while his own charisma does ease the pain of this movie, it doesn’t keep this from become a frustrating and uninteresting slog. In the movie Birdman (yes, I’m bringing a Michael Keaton movie into this review), there’s a scene where the titular alter ego of the main character starts spouting off about how awesome it would be for them to make a big budget summer blockbuster comeback, and it’s written in a way that clearly describes this as the death nail of creativity and integrity; the last push to complete his fall from grace. Honestly, that always struck me as a bit cynical and off base considering that some of the biggest movies in recent history have had the balls to actually be about something (*cough* Fury Road *cough*) or to ACTUALLY be reflective of the modern world and buck supposed sacred trends in Hollywood in regards to casting decisions and the characters they play (*cough* The Force Awakens *cough*). Not only that, but it’s clear that there’s definitely a lower ring in hell an actor can find themselves in and it’s films that no one gives a shit about that are modestly budgeted, lazily written, and actually do rely completely on the star power of its biggest actor. Nicolas Cage has already tumbled headlong down that route, and I worry that Kevin Costner might be going the same way, especially after seeing this. Don’t bother with this movie. Trust me, this is gonna be forgotten in six months and that’ll be the best thing Kevin Costner can hope for.
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