Film Review “Criminal”

Starring: Kevin Costner, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot
Directed By: Ariel Vromen
Rated: R
Running Time: 113 minutes
Summit Entertainment

Our Score: 2.5 out of 5 stars

When it comes to groundbreaking scientific advancements, you want the sharpest minds on the case experimenting on the most eligible people. So when doctors plan on transferring the memories from the mind of a dead CIA operative, so that they can acquire highly classified information, they would obviously want the most qualified of human test subjects. In “Criminal”, the best they can do is an murderous inmate.

Jericho (Costner) lacks empathy, has never experienced any human emotion outside of hate and revenge and has killed numerous, if not dozens, of people. His sociopathic tendencies, as he puts it, are because he was thrown from a moving car by his father as a child. The doctors say it disabled the frontal lobe of his brain and doctors say that makes him the “perfect” candidate to accept the memories of undercover agent, Bill (Reynolds). If you’re willing to ignore the irrational set-up, then you might like “Criminal”.

But “Criminal” takes itself too seriously to be enjoyably farcical and its characters are too inherently silly to be earnest. “Criminal” falls flat half the time, but it manages to find a couple of entertaining nuggets when Jericho combines his angry drunken fighting technique with the precise killing method of Bill’s CIA training. It’s rarely there, but Costner in various scenes highlights the carefree nature of a petty thief and the calculating nature of a trained killing machine.

There are actually quite a few other actors that Costner gets to play with, including Bill’s wife played by Gal Gadot, a short tempered higher-up played by Gary Oldman, and a doctor that performs the memory transfer, played by Tommy Lee Jones. All the characters are interesting, but none of them really add much depth to the story or to Jericho. Costner is entertaining enough without us being distracted by the surrounding star power. On the surface it may seem like a waste of talent, but it’s more the case of a movie with unnecessary add-ons.

As the movie goes on, we learn that the CIA wants to find out the location of a master hacker, known as the Dutchman. The government wants to keep the Dutchman out of the hands of the Russians and a rogue anarchist who wants to hit the reset button on society. The plot is vague with details, but gets the point across visually without drowning the audience in tedious exposition, which I’m thankful for. Because of that, the nearly two hour runtime goes unnoticed.

Jericho is the focal point of the movie and “Criminal” attempts to make him sympathetic by showing how he adapts to emotions like love, affection, and genuine human concern for the first time in his life. On paper, he’s a despicable human who still kills people and is obsessed with his own wants and needs, but Costner adds some level of believability to the rehabilitation credence. But that might be because the American public commonly knows him as an Iowa farmer that plays baseball with ghosts.

“Criminal” could have been really fun if it avoided the pitfalls of humanizing its main character. Costner is a decent enough anti-hero without the sappy injunction of his wife. In a different universe, “Criminal” is a good movie. It’s a sci-fi movie instead though. Kevin Costner remains foul-mouthed, learning to show some compassion, but still remaining crass and blood hungry. In this world though, he’s a predictable character stuck in a generic action movie.

Blu-ray Review “Criminal Activities”

Criminal Activities
Rated: Not Rated
Studio: Image Entertainment
Running time: 94

Media Mikes Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

It all comes down to bad luck. One day you’re wondering how your friend is doing, the next your at his funeral because he got run over by a city bus. Such is the day that Zach (Michael Pitt), Noah (Dan Stevens), Warren (Christopher Abbott) and Bryce (Rob Brown) have when they attend the above named friend’s funeral. Meeting up afterwards they catch up with each other’s lives. All are doing fine but, like everyone else, can surely use a bump in income. Bryce shares with the others a medical company his cousin works for is about to go public. He also notes that they have an FDA approved drug about to be released. His cousin has accumulated a lot of stock and is looking to sell some. The price: $200,000. Only Noah seems to have the necessary funds so he agrees to front the amount for the group. Things go well until it’s discovered that the drug company was a sham and now it’s time to pay the piper. And the piper wants his money NOW!

“Criminal Activities” is the cleverly written directorial debut of actor Jackie Earle Haley and is a gem that was sadly overlooked during it’s theatrical release last November. The film follows the young quartet as they meet up with their financial benefactor, Eddie (Travolta, in tip-top “Get Shorty” form). With interest, etc, the boy’s $200,000 debt is now doubled. Eddie gives the lads a chance to clear the books. It seems one of his underworld rivals has kidnapped a family member and Eddie wants to repay the favor by having the rivals’ nephew snatched. It’s obvious that the boys are in over their heads when none of them recognize the gangster’s name. “Google him,” they are told. They somehow manage to pull off the kidnapping but they end up grabbing much more than they bargained for.

A triumph on all levels, the film’s strongest point is it’s cast. All four young leads have energy to burn, as does Edi Gathegi, who plays their kidnapee, Marques. As the old pro, it’s so good to see John Travolta having so much fun with a role. Director Haley cast himself and Christopher Jay Gresham as Eddie’s henchmen, and their interaction with the others makes for some of the films more humorous moments. As a director, Haley keeps the story moving at a fine pace, making great use of both long tracking shots and the sights of the city of Cleveland at night. Robert Lowell’s script is witty and sarcastic, with a twist to rival “The Usual Suspects.” If you didn’t get the chance to see this last year, I hope you find the time to see it now. You won’t be disappointed.