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“Criminal” movie review By Jeff Boudreaux

“Criminal” movie review

By Jeff Boudreaux

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Kevin Costner stars in “Criminal,” a film presenting itself as a shiny, new example of morphed identities, espionage and the whole bad-ass subgenre. Unfortunately it isn’t, and it’s claim isn’t helped by the fact that this is the third time that Ryan Reynolds (unbilled but prominently featured) has either had his character’s consciousness place into another human’s body or vice-versa (see “The Change-Up” and “Self/Less”). Hey, we can even factor John Woo’s classic “Face/Off” into the mix, but in its defense – this film isn’t bad. Original, not so much, but certainly not a terrible way to spend two hours. Honestly, it plays out like the cooler, medicinally-advanced cousin of last year’s “The Gunman,” with Costner implicitly more convincing of his deadly craft than that film’s terribly-miscast Sean Penn!

C.I.A. agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) is a marked man. Possessing the knowledge to the whereabouts of a fugitive hacker named Jan Stroop (Michael Pitt in a role that appears to be a cross between Edward Snowden and Anonymous!), Pope is tortured and killed by insane terrorist Hagbardaka Heimbahl (Spanish villain extraordinaire Jordi Mollà) who wants access to what Stroop has – which are codes to the nuclear override of the United States. Naturally, the C.I.A. must find Stroop before Heimbahl does, so Pope’s superior, Agent Wells (Gary Oldman), enlists Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) to employ his lab-rat certified method of transferring memories from a dead subject to a live candidate.

Just kind of imagine what Dracula attempted to do in his laboratory with Wilbur and the Monster in “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein,” only in reverse, and you now have a fairly good idea of the formula at work here! Of course, like Lou Costello, you must have a prime candidate to undergo a surgical procedure of this magnitude. So, why not a throwaway prisoner named Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner), who is completely devoid of human emotions?! Once Pope’s memories have been implanted into Jericho’s brain, Wells and company find that controlling this psychopath will be easier said than done and the mission is viewed as a failure. However, as Jericho confronts Pope’s wife, Jill (Gal Gadot) and convinces her and (to an extent) her daughter Emma of his new identity (in a plot device that is reminiscent of the ultra-saccharine “Labor Day,” only if instead of Josh Brolin the film had starred Liam Neeson!), we see a man who will stop at nothing to find Stroop and protect his newfound “family.”

“Criminal” has a decidedly European look to it, and I’m not just referring to the film’s shooting location of London. It kind of reminded me of a Luc Besson thriller, blending violence with humanity in an overseas locale. Kevin Costner is pertinently believable as Jericho, lifelong convict (i.e. criminal). He brings a strong, sturdy characterization to (for all intents and purposes) a sociopath, and may be the first time onscreen (or any other medium for that matter) that empathy is elicited for a person with this historical nature. The interactions between Jericho and Pope’s wife and child are tender and somewhat touching as we are forced to examine the roles of individuals and whatever unfortunate lot they happen to draw in life. With that being said, he’s a character that the viewer can root for, and happens to do a pretty good job of thwarting the intentions of anyone other than himself and his newfound charges.

“Criminal” is Director Ariel Vroman’s follow-up to “The Iceman,” his terrific biopic from 2012, with a glaring difference being the pacing of the two films. While “The Iceman” took advantage of its 106-minute running time, and delivered a dynamic true account of another man devoid of feelings – notorious contract killer Richard Kuklinski, our journey with Jericho Stewart is enlightening, yet it makes the mistake of not following its subject closely enough. As a result, when Costner is off-screen the movie can’t help but drag along. However, there are things to admire in the script by Douglas Cook and David Weisberg (“The Rock,” “Double Jeopardy”), especially their penchant for dramatic tension that proceeds via the barrel of a gun or from the launching pad of a ballistic missile! While not a perfect film from any stretch of the imagination, “Criminal” benefits from the performance of its lead and by the presence of sequences that could only come from the heart. Oh, and lest I forget, “Criminal” features some of the most deliciously violent acts in recent vigilante filmdom. And that, my friends, is worth the price of admission.

** ½ (two-and-a-half out of four stars)

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