hey don’t make them like they used to. Films like Criminal (by that I mean sloppy but reveling in its own stupidity) used to be slightly more common, but the economic disappearance of the mid-budget film has led to a dearth of bull-headed action and sci-fi films. Criminal is neither smart nor exciting, but it does not try to be either. In that regard, it is a success, but were the bar set even slightly higher it would be a complete miss.
The film opens with an international team of generic bad guys hunting a CIA officer (Ryan Reynolds) through London. At this point it is unclear who he is running from, and what is in his duffle bag, but we know that it is clear his life is at stake with every turn. Being in the dark may have been frustrating for the audience, but the use of technology and tracking through public surveillance is fascinating to watch. When the officer, Bill, is captured, tortured, and left for dead, the CIA must take drastic measures. Bill has information which will avoid a major international incident, but when he dies the information dies with him.
Enter Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones). He has created a revolutionary brain transference procedure which can transplant memories from one brain to the next; the only catch is that the receiver needs to have a very specially wired brain. The receiver must have a non-functioning frontal lobe. The frontal lobe will be able to accept the memories of the deceased and begin to rewire the rest of the brain. The catch here is that the frontal lobe also controls inhibition, so only sociopaths are candidates for the procedure. The CIA is able to pull some strings to find just the guy they need in Jericho (Kevin Costner). Franks does the procedure, hopes for the best, and hands his patient back to the government.
If this all sounds incredibly similar to last year’s Self/less, you would be right. Though the circumstances of the brain upload are different, the ensuing mish-mash of two minds in one head, and the following pursuit of the dead man’s wife are all the same. Criminal also heavily borrows from The Matrix (Jericho is able to speak French with the same ease and wonder as Neo discovering his jiu jitsu skills) and Frankenstein (resurrecting the dead through an imperfect vessel). Adding to these homages is Costner’s performance as Jericho being a dead-on imitation of Roddy Piper in They Live.
Costner’s grumbling Jericho is not the only caricature in the film. Both Gary Oldman as the lead CIA officer and Jones’s Frank chew up the scenery like bubble gum too. They all yell at the sky while shaking their fists, utter overly dramatic lines with such conviction, and seem fully aware of the absurdity of the film. The effect of these well-known actors hamming it up on screen inches towards being pathetic, but they never really lose control of the characters. Instead the effect is that they are having so much fun with this ludicrous film that they can’t help but go all-in.
Despite all the ridiculous fun, Criminal does make some terrible cinematic mistakes. It never claims to be scientifically sound, so it is difficult to critique it on that level. Instead, it invokes the annoying tradition of smart characters doing very dumb things. Multiple times Jericho is put into handcuffs, only to break out of them. He also breaks out of plenty of cars, which makes you wonder why they repeatedly trust him in cars. There is also a police car chase at a snail’s pace and some very questionable physics at play during certain car crashes to round out the egregious mistakes in the film.
On one hand, Criminal refuses to take itself seriously and in the process created a dim-witted but fun flick. But on the other hand, the film is simply poorly written and poorly acted. The score here reflects my assessment of the film’s quality, but that does not mean you won’t have some fun watching it.
Director: Ariel Vromen
Tommy Lee Jones
Film Length: 113 minutes
Release Date: April 15, 2016