When I think of Kevin Costner, the word “bad-ass” isn’t what comes to mind.
That might change after watching CRIMINAL (2016), the new thriller starring Costner as a death row inmate who through untested experimental surgery is given the memories of a dead CIA agent.
Why? Because the agent died before completing his mission, and in order for his superiors to learn the vital information he took with him to his grave, they need to ressurect his memory. Enter Kevin Costner.
When the movie opens, CIA agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) is being chased by the bad guys, and he doesn’t make it, which is very bad for the good guys, because Pope was bringing in a computer hacker who had gained control of the U.S. military’s missile launch system. Pope’s boss, Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman) recruits Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) to perform experimental surgery on Pope to transfer Pope’s memories into the brain of another man.
Franks chooses Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner), a death row inmate and career criminal, because Jericho has a rare brain condition as a result of a childhood brain injury which makes him a perfect candidate for the surgery. Trouble is, the same injury has also made Jericho an unstoppable unfeeling brutal criminal who doesn’t know right form wrong, doesn’t feel emotion or pain, and basically is Michael Myers without the mask. Well, almost.
Franks performs the surgery, but Jericho escapes, and now armed with Pope’s CIA agent knowledge and skills, sets out to steal the money that Pope was going to use to bring in the computer hacker. But when Jericho visits Pope’s wife Jill (Gal Gadot) and his young daughter, he begins to relive happy memories from Pope’s past and suddenly he’s experiencing emotions, something he had never been able to do before, which changes his outlook on life.
Meanwhile, the hacker is still out there, CIA boss Quaker Wells is going nuts because every move he makes seems to be the wrong one, and the main baddie in the movie, terrorist Xavier Heimdahl (Jordi Molla) is intent on using Jericho to lead him to the hacker so he can gain control of the U.S. military’s missile launch codes and blow up the world.
And he’ll succeed, unless Jericho, the relentlessly brutal career criminal who’s now armed with CIA agent skills, making him more dangerous than ever, can stop him. And he wants to stop him for the simple reason that Xavier has irked him. As Jericho says early in the movie, “You hurt me. I’ll hurt you worse.” Well, Xavier put the hurt on him, and for Jericho, that’s enough.
I went into CRIMINAL not expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a very entertaining movie, and the biggest reason for this is Kevin Costner.
For me, it’s usually hit or miss with Costner. Sometimes I enjoy him, and other times not so much. For example, his recent action thriller 3 DAYS TO KILL (2014) I thought was meh, and he didn’t really do all that much for me in that movie. Yet, he was terrific in last year’s MCFARLAND, USA. (2015), and I also enjoyed him in the two thrillers THE NEW DAUGHTER (2009) and MR. BROOKS (2007). Of course, Costner’s career goes way back to THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987) and was followed by a career of hits [DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990)] and misses [WATERWORLD (1995)].
Costner knocks it out of the park here in CRIMINAL. I haven’t seen Coster this good in years. Part of the fun is it’s a role Costner doesn’t usually play. As Jericho Stewart, he’s in-your-face abrasive, rough, crude, and incredibly entertaining. His gritty yet realistic performance is reminsicent of the work of Tom Hardy, who also could have easily played this guy.
Costner is also supported by a fine cast. While neither Gary Oldman nor Tommy Lee Jones really stand out or do anything we haven’t seen them do before, they are both very good and their presence certainly helps the movie. As does Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman herself!) as Pope’s beautiful wife Jill. Gadot is not in the movie a whole lot, but when she is, it gets that much better.
Jordi Molla is meh as main baddie Xavier Heimdahl. I’ve seen better villains, and I’ve seen worse. Likewise, Michael Pitt as hacker Jan Stroop aka “The Dutchman” is also simply okay.
Better than these two are the other women in the cast. Alice Eve makes her mark in a brief bit as CIA Agent Marta Lynch who for a time is Quaker Wells’ go-to person before she meets an untimely demise. Even better than Eve is Antje Traue as Elsa Mueller, Xavier’s top assassin. Traue gives the second best performance in the movie, behind Costner’s, and I really enjoyed her work as Elsa, who was one of the better characters in the movie. Then again, maybe I just have a thing for sexy assassins.
And while it was nice to see Ryan Reynolds as Bill Pope, his performance was more of an afterthought, since he’s only in the movie for a few minutes.
CRIMINAL also has a really good script by Douglas Cook and David Weisberg. It’s chock full of good lines, mostly spoken by Kevin Costner, and the idea behind the story, transferring one man’s memories into another, was pretty interesting.
I couldn’t help but think of FRANKENSTEIN while watching this movie. The memory transplant, the brain surgery, the fact that Costner’s Jericho behaves like the Frankenstein Monster, especially how he doesn’t feel emotion and goes about scaring people and beating them senseless every chance he gets. Plus Tommy Lee Jones’ character is named Dr. Franks, which immediately made my Hammer Films brain think of Peter Cushing’s Dr. Franck at the end of THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958).
That whole part of the story is really interesting and compeletely worked for me, mostly because Costner’s performance brings Jericho to life.
The other part of the story, the stealing of military secrets and wanting to blow things up, didn’t work as well. That was all standard action movie fare and offered nothing new.
Director Ariel Vromen does a nice job, especially with the pacing. This one flew by. The action scenes were all decent, although none of them were all that spectacular.
By far, the best part of CRIMINAL and the main reason to see this one is Kevin Costner’s completely satisfying performance against type as rough, tough, unstoppable and often insane Jericho Stewart.
It’s Costner’s most entertaining role in years.