The premise of Criminal involves an ex-con being used as a vessel to contribute to an ongoing investigation by the CIA. Information and memories are transferred via a scientific procedure from a recently murdered agent to the agency’s newly hired hand. This set-up is bonkers, but the cast sells it as best as they can.
The audience can still sense the actors’ state of denial; they don’t want to admit that Ariel Vromen’s action-thriller is schlock. Everyone except Kevin Costner. Costner, who is in full “Mr. Brooks mode”, throws himself entirely into the role of “bad ass” Jericho Stewart – the CIA’s secret weapon. We’ll talk about Costner in a bit.
The main problem with Criminal is how uninvolving its story is, and how it overreaches when trying to cover its expositional butt. Screenwriters Douglas Cook and David Weidberg (of The Rock and Double Jeopardy) bend over backwards to give other characters a perspective on what’s going on. Every security camera can be conveniently controlled and flawless face-recognition technology can be implemented through any security system. The installation of information into Jericho’s brain (an experiment conducted by Tommy Lee Jones, who looks lost) is a concept that is pitched with the same science found in a monster-movie laboratory. Whenever Jericho recalls any of his new memories, it’s always at the most helpful times. You get the picture.
All of this could be forgiven if the film decided to solely be a sci-fi flick or even an over-the-top comedy. Unfortunately, Criminal wants to have one foot firmly planted in hard drama while it plays around with wild science-fiction elements. This dry film takes itself too seriously, as if Ariel Vromen believes the script is loosely based on real-life events.
However, just when you’re about to write-off the film, Criminal throws Kevin Costner’s tough-guy schtick into the mix. Through intermittent spurts of happy confusion, audiences briefly see the type of entertainment Criminal should’ve been. Take this for instance: Costner is stuck in a room with a crook, he quickly looks around the room, finds an inanimate object, and uses it to fight – this happens more than once. By the time Jericho spotted a cactus, I was riveted. That is until the energy was snuffed out by the convoluted plot, the uninspired villain (played by Jordi Mollà on autopilot), and squandered performances (notably Wonder Woman herself Gal Gadot who is given a weak range of innocence during flashbacks and melancholia in the present).
Just like the loaded cast starring in Criminal, the audience must lower their standards to find some sort of enjoyment. Even then, there are too many lulls in Criminal that can’t be overlooked.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie