MOVIE REVIEW: Criminal (2016)

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“Criminal” Review
Directed by Ariel Vromen
Written by Douglas Cook and David Weisber

What with the already saturated market for mind-altering/wiping/reading, memory-recovering movies, Criminal gets on the bandwagon to amuse us once again with the premise of making something unfeasible possible. The film is director Ariel Vromen’s first venture into big-budget films after dabbling in a number of music videos, short films, and documentaries. From the looks of it, he might still need to take thing up a notch.

Stationed in London, field agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) arrives on the screen with an immediate need for rescuing. Sensing he’s being followed by the thugs of Spanish industrialist and anarchist Hagbardaka Heimbahl (Jordi Mollà), he hastily tries to avoid capture by going above and below Central London’s walkways, all the while being monitored by Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman), CIA London’s Head of Operations. 

What Heimbahl wants from him is the location of his ex-operative Jan Stroop (Michael Pitt), a Dutch hacker (creatively nicknamed “The Dutchman”) who was able to infiltrate the depths of U.S. Military technology, allowing anyone wielding his Wormhole  program to launch any of the U.S.’s nukes from anywhere in the world, to anywhere in the world. Apparently, The Dutchman made a deal with Bill to get asylum from the U.S., to ensure his absolute protection from Heimbahl. What follows is one of the fastest and most absolute deaths for any character I’ve seen so far. At least Ned Stark lasted a full season.

Criminal writers Douglas Cook and David Weisber, who worked before in a number of films like The Rock (might bring memories of Sean Connery’s Shhcoddish accent), decided to use this hasty demise to insert their story’s main character Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner) into the mix. With Quaker believing that Bill’s memories might allow them to locate The Dutchman and prevent a cataclysmic event, he asks Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones), a neuroscientist who has developed a memory-transfer process, to transfer Bill’s memories into the heavily damaged and empty, untapped brain of Jericho’s.

And from here on out, the acting goes absolutely awry. Either that, or the actors had pretty awful material to work with in the first place. Quaker goes absolutely bonkers when Jericho couldn’t immediately access Bill’s memories after his surgery, which is not something you’d expect from a CIA top honcho. In fact, what you’d expect is an intelligent and calm demeanor; cold as ice. Oldman’s absolutely brilliant acting skills gets absolutely wasted; all he is reduced to is an angry adult who gets into tantrums when he doesn’t get his way. Pity.

Also noticeable is that they decided to cast English actors to play ALL of the most noteworthy CIA agents in the film. Besides Oldman, Alice Eve and Scott Adkins star as agents at Quaker’s beck and call. Hell, even the warden who processes Jericho’s release is English (played by Colin Salmon). You just notice these things. Either the film’s casting crew can’t find Americans good enough to play the roles, or they find English people better at playing Americans. Interesting stuff.

Costner’s portrayal of a dumb, drooling, growling, and violent psychopath is on point, and he actually looks like he revels in playing a character that has absolutely no empathy, and just hits or punches his way into anything and anyone. Audiences would find a bit of humor on scenes where his psychopathic tendencies collide and mesh with Bill’s own kind and polite personality. Since he has also gained the spy skill set Bill honed through the years, he finds himself in a patisserie, ordering posh brekky in perfect French, without any knowledge of what the words meant. It is an attempt at humor, and albeit subtly funny, is not enough to make a lasting impact.

Tommy Lee Jones’ role is too much of a pushover, and all he has on while his pièce de résistance gets beaten up in front of him is a hangdog face. There is no power or authority in his character or his acting, which is something that is sorely missed, most especially if you think about his previous work.

Gal Gadot, who played Bill’s wife Jill, did well with trying to make the film as emotionally captivating as possible. Her attempts at trying to connect with a man who seems to have his husband’s essence within him is touching, but is not enough to elevate the film from the depths of the film’s bad writing.

Even with an all-star cast, what a good film should rely on is excellent writing. In the end, an actor can only do so much.

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