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Criminal (2016)
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by Jay Seaver

"Weird sci-fi in action-movie clothing."
3 stars

The opening narration of "Criminal" lays out its premise and appeal rather plainly: "They messed with my brain... Even I don't know what I'm going to do next." There's bigger things than that going on - there's a high-stakes storyline that wouldn't be out of place in an old-school James Bond movie - but when it works, it does so because it's genuinely fun to watch Kevin Costner play a "hero" who is so nuts that anything can happen next.

That the fate of literally the entire world is made into something that happens in the background while Costner's Jericho Stewart crashes through the London area handling his own concerns is a bit strange, to be honest. The script by Douglas Cook and David Weisberg is hardly the first time that this sort of that is made secondary to a main character with more individual concerns, but there are times when it seems like the filmmakers aren't quite sure how to go about it. Getting Jericho on his own requires a fair amount of impatience and incompetence on the part of the CIA whole moving the story forward means cutting away to seemingly omnipotent villains. Making the movie all about Jericho isn't a bad idea, but it is often executed in clumsy fashion.

And it is kind of a shaggy-dog story of a movie, in which a billionaire anarchist (Jordi MollĂ ) hires a hacker (Michael Pitt) to take control of America's nuclear arsenal, the latter offers to sell this "wormhole" back to the CIA, but the agent (Ryan Reynolds) who his the hacker in London is tortured to death before telling anybody where he stayed the informant, leading the agent's handler (Gary Oldman) to fly in a scientist (Tommy Lee Jones) who has successfully transferred memories between mice, with Jericho chosen as the other half of this experiment because the damaged frontal lobe that makes him a psychopath also makes him a blank slate. If the science sounds dodgy, wait until Oldman's Quaker Wells decides to just dispense worth Jericho when thirty seconds of yelling at a thug who has just had experimental brain surgery doesn't immediately produce usable intelligence, followed by rather lax security considering that they've just potentially put the location of a bag full of untraceable money and the skills of Jason Bourne into the head of a man unable to tell right from wrong.

By the time Jericho has killed his easily-distracted guards, it would probably be fair to just give up on the thing, but that's also the point where it acquires the exact kind of odd, amoral freedom Jericho has. He'll look at a situation and locate the cline through it, and there's a sort of vicarious pleasure in seeing him do something as small as cutting in line at the library made all the more bizarre by the way he clearly doesn't know who this George Orwell guy he's asking about is. The counter to this is that his sudden outbursts of affection for the wife (Gal Gadot) and daughter (Lara Decaro) of the guy whose memories have been placed in his head seem just as confusing and incongruous, not to be trusted and this a part of what makes the whole situation unpredictable. Even if one has trouble buying into the path that got one there, it's surprisingly fun to watch something with a lot of extremely formulaic elements and realize that a lot of the rules may not apply.

It is, intentionally or not, kind of a terrific commentary about what its audience will accept and even cheer when spies are involved, both on-screen in real life, where we often convince ourselves that the ends justify the means. Jericho is the exemplar of this and the other side of James Bond as a fantasy, all the violence but none of the sex, but it's some of the others that are just as concerning - Quaker Wells is in many ways just as much a loose cannon as Jericho, seemingly unconcerned about the agents he loses as he jumps from one half-baked idea to another, and ultimately finds something appealing about Jericho. Tommy Lee Jones plays Dr. Franks as almost too kind-natured, but he's also obsessed in a genial, self-deceiving way, too hopeful for his experiment to succeed to see what he's working on.

None of it works without Kevin Costner, whose last couple runs at aciton/adventure (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit & 3 Days to Kill) benefited from how, while he was always a kind of curmudgeonly sort of heartthrob in his younger years, he went for full-on abrasive, and Criminal takes that to the next level. Costner seems to have a ton of fun accenting the monstrous nature of Jericho, but his best work comes when he seems genuinely confused by the new emotions that are suddenly bouncing around his head, as, even as the bits of Bill Pope seem to come out naturally.

"Criminal" is a weird little movie dressed up as a big action blockbuster, and sometimes the clothes don't fit that well. But when it's letting Costner be unpredictable, it's a different kind of fun than most thrillers, and that's something worth giving a look.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=28099&reviewer=371
originally posted: 04/19/16 13:22:00
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USA
  15-Apr-2016 (R)
  DVD: 26-Jul-2016

UK
  N/A

Australia
  15-Apr-2016
  DVD: 26-Jul-2016


Directed by
  Ariel Vromen

Written by
  Douglas Cook
  David Weisberg

Cast
  Kevin Costner
  Ryan Reynolds
  Gary Oldman
  Gal Gadot
  Alice Eve
  Tommy Lee Jones



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