In addition to being invited to press screenings of upcoming theatrical releases, I get scores of DVDs from the movie studios' home entertainment divisions. Most are movies finally coming out on video, or releases of older titles and various TV shows. A surprising number, however, are films few have ever heard of, but that star recognizable name talent. I don't think I'm come across any with Tom Cruise or Will Smith, and I'm not talking about films shot a long time ago before the famous actors and actresses became stars. Instead, they're relatively recent endeavors that -- for any number of reasons -- simply were passed on for theatrical release and instead went straight to video.
The FBI thriller "Mindhunters" seemed destined for that same fate. Shot and scheduled for release many moons ago, the film had a name director -- Renny Harlin of "Cliffhanger" and "Die Hard 2" fame -- as well as recognizable talent in front of the camera including Val Kilmer, Christian Slater and LL Cool J. Yet, the powers that be decided to shelve that unit for a few years. That is, until the wild success of all of those "crime scene" and profiler shows on TV that now dominate the airwaves.
Apparently sensing the time was right to dust off their film and try to attract the same viewers, they've released this intriguing but ultimately flawed and increasingly preposterous thriller. A loose adaptation of "And Then There Were None" (later remade three times as "Ten Little Indians" -- the original, if Americanized title of the Agatha Christie work -- and in the "Murder by Death" parody), the film follows the same basic plot.
A group of people are brought to an isolated island and are then murdered one by one. Yet, rather than being just innocent strangers, the would-be victims are wannabe FBI profilers believing they're participating in their final exam. And rather than being killed for previous wrongdoings they've committed, the individuals here are simply singled out for their most notable personality attribute that's then used to dispatch them.
Thus, the plot is of the standard run and hide or fight back variety where the group tries to figure out who's responsible while trying to avoid being the next victim. The twist is that since each is something of an expert on such matters, any of them could be the perp, and soon everyone's pointing fingers and guns at everyone else, figuring they have to be the villain. Then again, perhaps it's their instructor -- Kilmer -- or maybe a real killer who just so happened to be on the war game practice island that's given over to Kilmer's character for one weekend each year.
If that sounds preposterous, well it is, as is much of the film. Twists and turns come around every dark or cluttered corner, but even if a viewer succumbs to going with the flow of foolishness in order to experience the thrills and chills, they'll certainly note all of the faults in hindsight pertaining to how who did what. Since the potential victims are barely personified -- and are obviously designed as fodder for the cinematic meat grinder -- we have no vested interest in them or their potential fate.
Accordingly, and is the case in most group-based horror films, the only real intrigue -- beyond trying to figure out the killer's identity -- is in what order the victims will meet their demise and in what grisly fashion each killing might be. Harlin and screenwriters Wayne Kramer ("The Cooler") and Kevin Brodbin ("Constantine," "The Glimmer Man") even put a time clock on most killings -- the group gets clues about how much time is left before the next incident -- but that doesn't do much in helping grab or engage the viewer.
Along with the aforementioned actors, the likes of Jonny Lee Miller, Kathryn Morris, Patricia Velasquez, Eion Bailey, Will Kemp, and Clifton Collins Jr. simply can't do much of anything with their one-note characters (which is another disappointment considering that they're supposed to be bright FBI profilers in training).
Then again, they're too busy displaying behavior that's present to mislead the viewer -- and by default, the other characters -- into thinking one or another of them is really the culprit. It's designed to keep viewers off balance -- and it certainly works since so much nonsensical behavior means you'll have a devil of a time figuring out the identity -- but it also comes off as a cheap and artificial ploy, thus robbing the film of any little integrity it might have once possessed.
Of course, a film like this doesn't really revolve around such matters, and those looking for a mindlessly diverting popcorn thriller might just get into the effort of trying to solve the mystery. With clunky dialogue, some bad editing and no one to care about, however, the film ends up being considerably less thrilling than it should and probably could have been.