[Screen It]


(2016) (Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman) (R)

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Action: A convicted murderer, who suffers from a brain disorder where he doesn't experience any emotions, must contend with having mission critical memories transferred into his head from a slain CIA agent who was trying to stop an anarchist from getting his hands on a hacker's control of all U.S military weapons.
Bill Pope (RYAN REYNOLDS) is a CIA agent who lives in London with his wife, Jill (GAL GADOT), and their young daughter, Emma (LARA DeCARO). He works for Quaker Wells (GARY OLDMAN) and has been trying to coordinate the extraction of a hacker, The Dutchman (MICHAEL PITT), who's been working for an anarchist, Heimdahl (JORDI MOLLA), to gain control of all U.S. military weapons. But he's had a change of heart, something that doesn't sit well with Heimdahl or his henchwoman, Elsa (ANTJE TRAUE).

In his attempts to get The Dutchman a duffel bag of money and a passport, Bill realizes he's in imminent danger and thus stashes the bag and tries to get away from Heimdahl's goons, but he fails and loses his life. Desperate for the info that was in his head, Quaker enlists the aid of Dr. Franks (TOMMY LEE JONES) who's been working on transferring the memories of animals to other animals. Despite being years away from doing the same with humans, Quaker presses Dr. Franks into service.

And thus Bill's memories are transferred into the head of convicted murderer Jericho Stewart (KEVIN COSTNER). He's been chosen due to a childhood brain injury that left him with an empty part of his brain -- that which controls emotions -- and thus the memory transfer will have a greater chance of taking in him than in others. When that doesn't seem to have worked, however, Quaker orders him disposed of, but the wily criminal manages to escape and goes on the run, all while having to cope with flashes of Bill's memories involving both his personal and professional lives. And as that occurs, Quaker and his team try to find Jericho as well as The Dutchman, all before Heimdahl gets his hands on control of U.S. weaponry and unleashes that on the world.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
I've been professionally reviewing movies now going on twenty years and with thousands of reviews under my belt, sometimes it's a challenge to come up with something original to start off any new reviews. I'm guessing I've probably accidentally repeated myself from time to time, but I'm pretty sure I've never started off with a trip to the restroom right after a press screening.

Having just walked out of the violent action flick "Criminal," I need to make a pit stop before driving home. While standing there doing my business, there was a sudden crash of glass, followed by a guy coming out of the stall, moving the glass around a bit with his foot, and then picking up the largest shard and proceeding to walk by all of us standing in a row.

Had I just seen a romantic comedy or a kids film, I might have had a different reaction, but with nearly two hours of watching people be brutalized, punched, shot and so on, my immediate reaction was this guy's up to no good. The adrenaline kicked in and I readied myself to spring into defensive action, but nothing ultimately happened as the guy threw away the glass and went to pick up the rest.

While it's always good to know your mind and body are ready for something like that, it's too bad that sort of adrenaline rush -- or any sort of heightened emotional response -- was completely absent while watching director Ariel Vromen's film unfold. Yes, there's plenty of action, the body count is high, some cars crash and even some missiles fly. But if you're like me, you'll likely take it all in and leave with a "meh" reaction. That is, until something potentially violent lurks in the men's room shortly thereafter.

Unlike some reviewers who are calling this an outright cinematic disaster, the film does have some merits. Yes, we've seen the implanted memory plot before, so the high concept storyline isn't exactly original. And it's true that the villains are so barely fleshed out that they almost don't register. And there are plot holes, unbelievable character behavior and more that undermine what the film is trying to be.

All of which is too bad as there seems to have been the possibility for a good if not simply interesting story to be had here (as penned by Douglas Cook and David Weisberg). In the film, Kevin Costner plays an emotionless murderer who's selected (due to having a brain disorder that makes him an ideal candidate outside of that homicidal past) to receive a brain transplant from a recently killed CIA agent (played by Ryan Reynolds in little more than an extended cameo, which is probably a good thing since he starred in last year's consciousness transfer flick "Self/less").

It seems he was trying to help a hacker (Michael Pitt) get out from under the grip of a "Spanish anarchist" (literally described that way via on-screen text for the character played by Jordi Molla) who wants to undermine world order by overthrowing all governments. But he's killed in the line of duty, so his boss (a wasted Gary Oldman who's apparently been instructed to overact) tasks a medical researcher (Tommy Lee Jones, as always, looking pained to be here) to move the agent's memories over to the murderer's head so they can find the hacker and stop the villain.

Said murderer manages to escape, natch, and then finds himself dealing with, double natch, said memories, all of which, triple natch, start to turn him into someone resembling a human as he interacts with the dead agent's wife (Gal Gadot) and young daughter (Lara DeCaro).

Lack of originality and the myriad of problems that arise aside, the pic occasionally shows signs of becoming interesting, mainly from the conflict going on inside Jericho's head, and the way Costner plays the character having to deal with that. The veteran actor can only do so much with the part as written and the way in which the story unfolds in all of its predictable and not particularly engaging glory, but at least Costner breathes some life into what's otherwise a fairly dull and flawed action flick.

I'm not sure if a few more passes through the screenwriting process, editing booth, directorial choices or some adrenaline-inducing restroom peril could have saved the pic, but it's too bad it doesn't work better than it does, especially considering the talent involved. All of which makes it criminal that "Criminal" rates as just a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed April 12, 2016 / Posted April 15, 2016

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