‘Criminal’ (2016) Review
When a CIA agent is killed in the field with some very important information in his head, his superiors implant his memories, skills, and knowledge into the mind of a death-row inmate in hopes of letting him finish the agent’s mission.
Young, handsome CIA agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) is in London on assignment, hiding a computer hacker named “The Dutchman” (Michael Pitt) with a horrible new virus called the Wormhole, who is meant to get a huge sum of money and a new identity in exchange for his program. While Pope is being monitored by the US government, he is also tracked by wealthy Spanish business entrepreneur Hagbardaka Heimbahl (Jordi Molla) who has begun a crusade to topple to the world’s governments and generate a worldwide revolution. He wants the Wormhole. His people reach him first and ambush him near the docks, torturing him to get information and then killing him when he won’t talk. By the time the CIA reaches him, he’s not responding but has some limited brainwave activity. Not to be outdone, the CIA operative in charge, bureau chief Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman), calls in a specialist Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) who has been doing research on transplanting memories from one mammal to another. He’s five years away from human trials, but Wells tells him not anymore. He’s got 48 hours to put Pope’s mind into someone else. Fortunately, Franks has a subject already in consideration for the transfer, a man who suffered a traumatic brain injury as a child, leaving him with an underdeveloped cortex, which is what the experiment needs. Un-fortunately, that subject is Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner), an imprisoned sociopath who has no ability to express emotions or have feelings.
The surgery is a success in that Jericho survives, but he fails to retain the memories Wells needs (or so he tells him). Deciding he is no longer a viable asset, Wells orders his men to dispose of him, though natrualy, they underestimate his strength and on a deserted road outside of London, Jericho kills his captors and escapes. With Pope’s memories increasingly intruding on his own mind, he finds he is experiencing emotions for the first time and sets out to discover who is in his brain.
He starts with Pope’s wife, Jill (Gal Gadot), breaking into her house and instead of killing her, as it seems he might, the memories of Bill prevent him from doing so, and he leaves, robbing her instead. He’s later told by Dr. Franks that the memories are only going last a few days, so he decides to use what he has and find “The Dutchman” and protect Jill and her daughter. More or less.
The plot to Criminal is suitably absurd but actually a good one, even if it might not altogether be original. What’s interesting, and a good sign, is that this sci-fi element is the only sci-fi trick in the story, and it’s presented as legit. This is not a futuristic thriller, though there are some liberties with computers and Big Brother-esque type themes. It’s more Jason Bourne than Blade Runner, but inferior to both.
Directed by Ariel Vromen, (The Iceman), there is a lot to like here or at least a lot to want to like. The cast is the best place to start. Costner, Jones, and Oldman, who all worked together 25 year ago on Oliver Stone‘s JFK, are all very good, with Jones easily the best, his calm demeanor and embattled position the most satisfying of the performances. Costner does very well, too, though his choice of voice is distracting, echoing Bale’s Batman. Tormented by the conflicting memories and personalities, he’s convincing (though far short of his best work as a ‘bad guy’ in movies like Mr. Brooks). Oldman though, while right for the part, is reduced to shouting old tired lines like, “Get me in the air, now!” and “Put him on ice!” and “We need him alive!” throughout, never really getting a chance to give the character any weight. Alice Eve turns up in a blink or you’ll miss it part, almost as short as Reynolds. And poor Gadot, once again terribly underused. I want to watch this woman, but there must be more film makers can do with her. The worst though is Molla as the bad guy, a thinly made character so painfully constructed to be topical, he instead comes off like a 60s Bond villain. It’s shameful.
The film’s real let down is the script, with some truly questionable dialog and a few too many contrivances and easy-outs that cripple the potential. Things such as Jill not being constantly surveilled or at least put into protection after Jericho’s first break-in don’t make much sense. Not keeping Jericho in absolute quarantine as soon as they find him also seems unlikely. But we’re not meant to worry about that, as the film would rather stick to a formula than try to be more authentic. It’s frustrating, especially given the talent. Worse though are the staged action scenes, of which all are competently directed but meaningless, feeling like they are wedged into the movie for the sake of padding out the story with explosions other than quality dialog.
Criminal could and should have been smarter, a more nuanced and emotional story about a more interesting character. While there are some quality moments, it fails to be memorable and is best left as a late night rental you’ll probably not finish.
Director: Ariel Vromen
Writers: Douglas Cook, David Weisberg
Stars: Kevin Costner, Ryan Reynolds, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, Gal Gadot
Genre: Crime Drama