There’s no shortage of ludicrous action movies for teenagers, but let us sing the praises, however mildly and briefly, of far-fetched thrillers meant for adults — like “Criminal,” a sober-minded (but nonsensical) piece of espionage fluff from the writers of “Double Jeopardy” and “The Rock” (which should give you some idea of what to expect here). The line between youth-oriented hogwash and adult-oriented hogwash is hard to define, but in this case, it means the film is a little smarter and heavier than its PG-13 summer blockbuster counterpart would be. But only a little!
CIA spy Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds), stationed in London with his adoring wife Jill (Gal Gadot) and their little girl Emma (Lara Decaro), is laying a trap for Dutch cyber-terrorist Jan Stroop (Michael Pitt) when he (that is, Bill) is killed by another terrorist, Spanish anarchist Xavier Heimdahl (Jordi Molla). The is sad, but the real problem is that Bill died before he could relay crucial information. So his stop-at-nothing CIA boss, Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman) (yes, Quaker Wells), persuades scientist Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) to try something that has so far only been successfully tested on animals: transferring the electrical impulses that constitute Bill’s “memories” to the brain of a living person so that they can be remembered.
The unlucky, unwilling recipient of this data transfer is prisoner Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner), a murderous sociopath whose frontal lobe is sufficiently underdeveloped to allow for such interpolation. (You can’t move memories to a normal, healthy brain. That would be absurd.) Costner’s Jericho is a hoot, a growling id with no concept of right or wrong, or even of how people are supposed to behave in a society. Think Sophia from “The Golden Girls,” only deadly and slightly younger.
Giving a CIA spook’s training and know-how to a psycho goes wrong, of course (he escapes from police custody, obviously), though not as outrageously wrong as you’d hope. Post-surgery, Jericho has flashes of Bill’s memories, leading him to visit the widow and daughter at home, but his brain sends him conflicting messages. The entertainment value is in Costner’s loose performance, especially when Jericho starts Jekyll-and-Hyding between his own impulses and the influence of the good guy whose memories he inherited. He’ll be going about his psycho business when he’ll have a flash of decency and be like, “What the hell? Are these those human ’emotions’ I’ve heard so much about?”
The story gets stretched out longer than it needs to be, and director Ariel Vromen (“The Iceman”) lets the pace drag. Ideally, your dumb-but-entertaining movies with absurd premises should run around 90, 95 minutes. And I will allow that even for an unbelievable movie, almost everything with the wife and daughter is TOO unbelievable. You shouldn’t go out of your way to see it, but someday you’ll catch it on cable and think, “Hey, this isn’t bad!”
(P.S. “Criminal” reminds me of an important rule: if the title you’ve come up with for your movie could also apply to a thousand other movies you could name off the top of your head, it’s probably not a good title. “Criminal”? Geez, how many movies AREN’T about criminals?)
C+ (1 hr., 53 min.; )