Ariel Vromen’s Criminal is a race against time as the memories of a murdered CIA operate are implanted into a death-row inmate in the hope that he will help complete a critical mission.
The underlying story is actually needlessly complicated. There’s this whole narrative around CIA Operative Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) tracking down a hacker named The Dutchman (Michael Pitt) before he decides to use a program he has written to launch nukes that apparently remains important throughout the rest of the film but never feels as urgent as the characters remind us that it is.
It only really serves as flimsy justification for Jericho (Kevin Costner) undergoing an experimental procedure to have Pope’s memories implanted so that his knowledge doesn’t die with him. It’s questionable right away as the barely awake scientist Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) insists that Jericho is the only candidate because of some rare kind of brain damage that he has. I immediately found it difficult to accept that there is only one known candidate in the entire world. Would it have been so hard to throw in a line about Jericho being the only candidate accessible in the time remaining? It’s not that big a deal but it does show a lack of thought put into this.
Things progress as you might expect. Jericho is a sadistic criminal and makes use of an opportunity to escape and pursue his own interests but he is quickly haunted by the memories of Pope which starts him on a selfish desire to retrieve a hidden bag of money so that he can spend it. As the film goes on more of Pope’s personality starts to assert itself and Jericho slowly becomes a better man due to this external influence.
His self improvement is shown by him apologising for being rude to people and building a really strange relationship with Pope’s widow Jill (Gal Gadot) and daughter Emma (Lara Decaro). Jill misses her husband and Emma misses her father but the fact they seem willing to connect to this violent criminal makes no real sense and neither of them appear to be overly distraught at their recent loss. This attempt to give the film an emotional core completely falls flat due to how implausible it is.
The memory implanting premise isn’t exploited properly either. Jericho slowly starts displaying Pope’s personality traits but we have to take the film’s word on that as Pope doesn’t appear for long enough to have any personality and Jericho is so quickly introduced that we have no idea what his original personality was. I’m reminded of John Woo’s Face/Off but that film exploited the premise more successfully since the two characters were well established before they swapped faces. This one does nothing to establish either of them so it’s difficult to accept that any personality change is happening.
Despite that, Kevin Costner does a really good job as Jericho. He has some really amusing one liners and the casual disregard he has for the well being of others provokes a few laughs. With a better script Costner could have really shone in this role instead of having tiny flashes of brilliance that are quickly smothered by the other nonsense going on around him.
As I’ve mentioned, Ryan Reynolds is barely in this to the point that I wonder why they bothered featuring his character at all. Maybe if he had been represented in Jericho’s head or if there were more flashback scenes showing what sort of person he was then his appearance would have been more effective.
Outside of the implausible connection she makes with Jericho, Gal Gadot does fine as Jill. She comes across as strong willed as well as caring deeply for her daughter. The apparent lack of grief for her husband had me scratching my head but she made the best of what she was given.
CIA Boss Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman) was pretty much your standard impatient CGI boss and Oldman plays it competently but there’s nothing in the writing or his performance to bring anything more than what is required to the table. His only role is to be one step behind Jericho at all points and remind the audience how urgent the whole thing is. It’s such a waste of a a great actor. Tommy Lee Jones suffers a similar fate as a scientist who has seen his experimental procedure succeed but can’t muster the least bit of enthusiasm for it.
Other good actors like Alice Eve and Antje Traue have really small roles and are given absolutely nothing to do. One thing this film does consistently is take talented actors and use them in the most underwhelming way possible.
I did have fun with some of this film but it was so bogged down in random story beats that it was impossible to find something to really focus on. The pacing is incredibly uneven and it’s unclear what the film really wants to be. It could have been an entertaining action movie with a silly yet fun premise but the attempts to add more plot just come across as messy.
A mess of a film that could have been silly entertainment with a few minor tweaks. Kevin Costner is entertaining in parts but is smothered by the unforgiving script and other talented actors are horribly underused. The plot is needlessly overcomplicated and lacks the desired sense of urgency. It’s a shame this didn’t work out so well as there was a lot of potential in this idea.
- Kevin Costner’s entertaining performance in places
- other actors making some use of what they have
- the overcomplicated plot
- awful pacing
- a complete waste of talented actors