By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- This thriller is so goofily fanciful and casually sadistic, it's almost Criminal.
Not to be confused with the 2004 movie starring John C. Reilly, Criminal is a hard-edged action mystery-thriller, yet another variation on the Frankenstein legend, about a memory transplant.
In a last-ditch effort to thwart a diabolical plot and stop an international terrorist (Michael Pitt's The Dutchman) from doing his worst, the skills, secrets, emotions, and memories of dead, London-based CIA operative Bill Pope, played by Ryan Reynolds, who has been left for dead by enemy agents, are implanted into a dangerous and unpredictable death-row inmate, a psychopathic convict named Jericho Stewart, played by Kevin Costner, in the hopes that he will complete Pope's mission.
And as he proceeds, this previously emotionless thug begins to develop a conscience.
For Ryan Reynolds, who doesn't get much screen time, the premise here recalls last year's Self/Less, in which the consciousness of an older man was transferred into his body.
In the supporting cast, appealing Gal Gadot (the new Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) plays Pope's wife, Jill; a miscast Tommy Lee Jones is the rogue neurosurgeon who performs the experimental transplant procedure; and overacting Gary Oldman is the blustery CIA bureau chief.
Wit is surely in short supply, but Israeli director Ariel Vromen (The Iceman, Rx, Danika, Skeptical) at least keeps the action and violence humming, doing a lot of jump cutting and using plenty of jittery handheld cinematography a la the Bourne thrillers.
Nonetheless, his film stays parked in a suspense-free zone, despite being about a universe in which a day without an extravagant gunfight is just not worth depicting.
But the director knows that his best asset is Costner, who contributes considerable presence and energy, and has a good time reacting to the unfamiliar flurries and wrinkles that he finds himself displaying compliments of the "borrowed" mind he's now thinking with – and will for three days before the effects wear off.
Talk about a bad headache.
But at least Costner's showy role helps us ignore some of the more far-fetched conceits and overwrought passages in the erratic and undisciplined screenplay by Douglas Cook and David Weisberg (who co-wrote Michael Bay's The Rock) in which the players react to everything like movie characters rather than flesh-and-blood people.
Given its heady level of outrageousness, you can hardly accuse Criminal of being boring. But in terms of careful, thoughtful moviemaking, it can be accused of just about everything else, especially when it demonstrates its disregard for the value of human life when it resorts to the off-putting and desperate plot thrust of, in the midst of all the violent adult shenanigans, putting a small child in life-or-death jeopardy.
So we'll implant 2 stars out of 4 for an unpleasant espionage yarn that spills onto half-baked science fiction terrain. Think of the overall cinematic transgression being committed here as Criminal negligence.
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