CRIMINAL is a trifle of a thriller. Sure, guns are fired, things explode, and Ryan Reynolds meets a grisly end shortly after the flick begins, but the necessary tension to keep us all on the edge of our seats is noticeably lacking. What we are left with is an intriguing premise, Gary Oldman at his most excitable, and Kevin Costner having fun demonstrating the symptoms of an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex.
The premise finds Costner’s character, Jericho Stewart, as the perfect candidate to be the first human subject for a memory transfer from an unfortunately deceased CIA agent Billy Pope (Reynolds) into Jericho’s deficient brain. There’s something about the stem cells still in play that allow for the neural net to take hold, or so we are told by Dr. Franks (living Tiki idol, Tommy Lee Jones). It doesn’t matter, it’s a courtesy, really, to be given a plausible-sounding explanation as we are treated to views of skull-drilling and a pulsating brain.
Why all the fuss? Billy was hiding a computer hacker, known as The Dutchman (Michael Pitt) who had figured out how to take control of the world’s military via something called a wormhole. The CIA, in the person of Oldman’s deliciously monikered character, Quaker Wells, would like to find out where The Dutchman is, and then to put a bullet in his head after destroying the flash drive with the wormhole on it. Or before, the timing is irrelevant. There’s also a suitably bearded anarchist (Jordi Molla) intent of using the hacking code to, what else, destroy the world. And for added complications, there’s Billy’s lissome widow (the once and future Wonder Woman Gal Gadot) and doughty little daughter (Lara Decaro) who keep popping into Jericho’s head.
With Billy inconveniently deceased, putting his memories in Jericho is the only option for saving the world. That Jericho is guy with no impulse control, no empathy, and no clue about what an emotion is only adds spice to the proceedings as we learn what happens when you cross a crack CIA agent with a psychopath. The answer is a ruthlessly efficient killing machine plagued with flashbacks of another man’s blissful domestic life and a sudden fluency in French when ordering breakfast. The answer is also someone that doesn’t necessarily feel the need to cooperate with the people performing medical procedures on him without his consent.
Costner’s performance is noteworthy, from those first shots of him chained by the neck in the cell where he resides, through the irritating confusion of learning to love. He is never a wild-eyed lunatic, just a guy who sees the world differently than you or I do. Hence, there’s nothing unreasonable about walking into a fast-food joint and taking someone’s order away from them after giving the CIA the slip. No fuss, no threats, no yelling, though talk back and there will be violence. It’s even less unreasonable for him to track down that big bag of money he keeps remembering (and we see, as with all of Billy’s memories, in a vertiginous fish-eye of visual) from Billy’s last few hours on Earth, including using the security codes to let himself into Billy’s house, where he is flummoxed by the impulse to NOT rape the lissome widow, just duct tape her up and dash off with some pawn-ables. Costner’s Jericho is a hulking menace, but not one that calls attention to himself until provoked. And one that has an unexpected authenticity when telling the lissome widow that because Billy could never hurt her, he can’t either.
With a plot that ticks along like a moderately flustered metronome, CRIMINAL is a film that doesn’t qualify as engrossing. Nor does it doesn’t pay to overthink details such as why stolen vans move with impunity under the ubiquitous CCTV of London, where the film takes place, or why Dr. Franks is so completely nonplussed when the psychopath whose head he cut open a few days ago barrels down the road at him in an SUV. There were many opportunities to make this a more cerebral film about politics and ethics, or one that ran on pure adrenalin, but they were not taken. Leaving us with a flick that’s strictly for fans of neurology and/or of speculative fiction.