By: Hawk Ripjaw (Four Beers) –
Remember Self/Less from earlier this year, where Ryan Reynolds got someone else’s consciousness transplanted into his brain and had visions from his original host? May I interest you in almost the exact same concept, except reversed?
Bill Pope (Reynolds) is a government agent preparing to hand off a duffel bag of $10 million to retrieve a hacker named “The Dutchman” (Michael Pitt) who is the only person in the world with access to a program that can override any nuclear missiles in the world. He needs to find him before terrorist Xavier Heimdahl (Jordi Molla, aka “The Foreign Bad Guy in Every Movie Ever”) does. Unfortunately, Xavier gets to Pope first and kills him before Pope can disclose the location of the Dutchman. In fact, no one knew this information except for Pope himself, because otherwise this movie wouldn’t exist. Luckily, Dr. Tommy Lee Jones: Exposition Machine (Morgan Freeman wasn’t available) has developed a technology to transplant one consciousness into another.
Enter Jericho (Kevin Costner), who’s such a stone-cold asshole he needs another character to deliver an entire monologue about how much he doesn’t know right from wrong. This is because Jericho’s frontal lobe of his brain is damaged because he was thrown out of a moving car as a kid. I can’t make this shit up, guys. As it happens, the procedure only works on brains that don’t have a functioning frontal lobe, which Jericho conveniently doesn’t have. So, at the behest of the consistently very angry CIA head Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman, yelling the majority of his lines ), Pope’s mind, memories, and behaviors are transplanted into Jericho’s frontal lobe, which slowly gives him a conscience and a series of very uncomfortable scenes with Pope’s widow Jill (Gal Gadot).
To its credit, Criminal is rarely, if ever, remotely boring (unlike Self/Less, which was a relentlessly dull mind-swap movie). It moves at a good pace and stays engaging, even if that engagement is propelled by a vested interested in which nutso plot twist the movie is going to throw in next. The script is littered with incredibly weird beats and ideas, and the prospect of a new one around each corner is a treat.
Kevin Costner is almost always a reliable actor, and here he gets a script where the mind of a nice guy is scrambled with that of a sociopath, and he fucking goes for it. The performance is goofy, stoic, and schizophrenic, often all within a matter of moments.
This is one of those movies that makes less sense the more you think about it. For example, why does the entire CIA not know where Dutchman is? The whole plot hinges on everyone trying to find out where this dude is. I would assume logic would dictate that a CIA agent hiding the one man with the keys to nuclear apocalypse would keep his boss in the loop, but of course if that was the case the movie’s $31 million budget would be spent on something more productive, and that’s just silly. Heimdahl spends about 90% percent of his screen time sitting in an abandoned church on his laptop hacking things, which literally translates to manually overriding bridges, GPS phones, and other things to advance the plot. The movie also uses the idea of a sociopath getting injected with the brain juice of a super nice family man as a framing device for Jericho to rediscover his humanity, which leads to another Self/Less-ism where Random Stranger with Hot Woman’s Former Husband’s Brain Has Tender Moments With Her situation.
And then there was the ending. Gaaaaaaaaaah.
What do a torture scene involving shoving a cattle prod into someone’s mouth, a personality-switched killer tying up a woman and then “affectionately” stroking her legs and sniffing her sheets because he remembered how much the other half of his mind loved her, and Kevin Costner instinctively speaking French and then saying “I’m speaking Spanish, motherfucker!” have in common? They are all in the script for Criminal. The writers of The Rock and Double Jeopardy are caught halfway between the 90s and present day with an script that is oddly unfocused in tone, as scenes with exaggerated characters and lines struggle to break free from a story that tries to be both an action thriller and redemption drama at the same time.
There is a lot that’s really funny about this movie. The movie doesn’t seem to agree. Take, for example, the aforementioned “I’m speaking Spanish, motherfucker,” to which the man behind him angrily corrects that it’s French, which causes Jericho to break the man’s nose. A bit of trivia for the movie states that Nicolas Cage was offered a role for the movie, and there’s no way in hell that role wasn’t Jericho, because not only is Costner having the time of his life playing two wildly different personalities, he’s practically channeling Cage himself for half of it. If only any of the other actors or even the movie itself devoured the material with such gusto. Criminal commits the cardinal sin of ridiculous scripts: it fails to be ridiculous itself.
Honestly, with the first trailer I was expecting something completely ludicrous. And while my lifelong journey for a proper successor to Winter’s Tale continues, Criminal is not without its weird, stupid charms. It’s not complete garbage, either; if you can get down with some inherent dumbness that doesn’t know when it needs to laugh at itself, you could do worse. You could also do better. But it’s not every day you get Costner channeling his inner Cage.
Criminal Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever Pope’s personality invades Jericho’s actions.
Do a Shot: every time Jericho has a flashback.
Do a Shot: whenever something gets hacked.
Take a Drink: whenever Gary Oldman does something that somehow results in the next part of the plot when things could have just been resolved very easily in that scene.
Take a Drink: for every use of the word “fucker.”
Do a Shot: every time Tommy Lee Jones has to advance the plot with a new exposition monologue.