“Convoluted” doesn’t even begin to describe Ariel Vroman’s Criminal, a preposterous anti-terror thriller that wastes its tremendous cast on a morally bankrupt script. Screenwriters Douglas Cook and David Weisberg take their political stance on incarceration sans rehabilitation and the death penalty – views nobody was challenging in the first place — to such an extreme that they figuratively pull the trigger on themselves before getting their underlying message across. To put this madness into context, Kevin Costner plays a death-row inmate with a rare cognitive impairment: frontal lobe inactivity, said to effect one in ten million unlucky individuals. Costner’s Jericho Stewart is lost, alone, consumed by rage, ignorant to rules governing social interaction, and full of untapped potential for the government to exploit…which it most certainly does. Criminal takes the socially victimized anti-hero archetype to a deplorable level and offers only fleeting entertainment without the burden of character judgment. We’re a quarter into 2016 but Criminal is a blast from the January past, dragging us back to the hellish wasteland where only the worst of cinema can be found.
After a failed CIA operative recovery mission ends with the murder of the agent, London’s Head of Operations for the department, Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman), enlists neuroscientist Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) to help extract the final memories of said agent in order to discover the whereabouts of a rogue cyber-terrorist known as the Dutchman (Michael Pitt). The Dutchman has in his possession a thumb drive granting him unrestricted access to the U.S. military’s weapon arsenal. The hacker previously worked for Spanish anarchist Xavier Heimdahl (Jordi Mollá), the man responsible for killing the CIA agent in question and who will stop at nothing to extract the Dutchman’s device in his mission to topple all world governments. Mollá’s Heimdahl is little more than a Mission: Impossible supervillain, a single-minded sociopath hellbent on global domination who laughably fails at selling himself as some kind of alternative father figure for those craving social upheaval.
Costner’s Jericho is then pulled from his incarcerated solitude by the CIA and becomes the first human test subject for Dr. Frank’s memory transference technology, allowing Jericho to experience flashbacks of the dead agent’s past life. It’s not too long afterwards that one begins to realize Criminal’s “science” is a lot cooler than the experiment that ensues. Instead of just utilizing his brain as video playback to complete the mission as directed, Jericho becomes emotionally attached to the agent’s wife and daughter as though he’s the resurrected form of the late operative. As if this scientific result isn’t incredulous enough, Criminal further tests our suspension of disbelief by having his beautiful wife, Jill — played maternally spectacular by Gal Gadot (again, the best part of a shoddy ensemble flick) – fall in love with this violent lunatic who ties her up upon invading her home and caresses her leg in creepy fashion. To make matters worse, the daughter somehow forgot she just lost her father and is now knee-deep invested in Jericho to replace the void in their household. Sorry, I’m not buying such manufactured melodrama meant to manipulate us into forgiving Jericho for his heinous, misogynistic and gratuitously violent ways.
Criminal’s cast might be the only factor that gets it unjustly acquitted. Gary Oldman’s onscreen ruthlessness is back in full swing, echoing his psychotic disposition with a badge from Luc Besson’s Léon: The Professional. This time he’s firmly on the side of “good,” but his radical, mean-spirited methods are unchecked throughout the entire film as if to suggest appointed officials don’t have to be accountable for their actions so long as they protect ‘Merica! Costner is actually a good fit for this film considering his humdrum onscreen persona could use an injection of cold-blooded frenetic energy. As for Tommy Lee Jones, he’s never been more benevolent or elderly adorable in his career – his Dr. Franks remains steadfastly sensitive towards Jericho throughout and stands by the troubled soul’s side even when at his most manic. Deadpool himself, Ryan Reynolds, also makes a brief appearance in Criminal, but I’m not going to spoil the particulars of his role considering it’s something of a massive shocker worth discovering blind.
Overall, Criminal is a reminder that this hyper-masculine, aggressively violent genre is wearing out its welcome, one whose core values seem to be out of touch with an enlightened present. Following a spectacular year for action-driven cinema, I was expecting more Mad Max: Fury Road’s, not more insipid duds like Michael Mann’s Blackhat. Summit Entertainment is releasing Criminal nationwide this Friday, April 15th. Be sure to check out the intense trailer below.