Coming from the minds responsible (I choose that word carefully) for the script to The Rock and directed by one Ariel Vromen, this bizarre mess of a would-be Taken movie “with a twist” sees low functioning sociopath with brain damage Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner) abducted by the CIA and imprinted – in a highly illegal human experiment but don’t tell that to the film – by kindly scientist Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) via what I can only assume to be brain laser printing with parts of the brain of heroic, totally morally upright yet alas rather dead CIA agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds). CIA bigwig Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman) needs Pope’s brain, because he is the only one who knows how and where to contact a hacker generally known as The Dutchman (Michael Pitt) who has managed to install “a wormhole” in the US rocket system. Since crazy Spanish anarchist Xavier Heimdahl (Jordi Mollà) as well as “The Russians” are after The Dutchman too, the matter is somewhat pressing.
So pressing indeed that Wells is throwing a patented Gary Oldman hissy fit
when Jericho can’t deliver the information he wants about thirty seconds after
he comes to from anaesthesia; a minute and some hilarious business about pain
killers later, Wells already has Jericho carted off to be murdered somewhere
else while Franks looks on with the same mildly embarrassed facial expression
Tommy Lee Wallace most probably held on his face ever since he read the script.
Of course, Jericho escapes, and of course he starts to hover around Pope’s
family, beginning to develop curious stuff he never had before like “feelings”,
and involves himself in the hunt for the Dutchman thanks to his newly developed
conscience courtesy of a CIA agent. And nope, I don’t think the film actually
sees the irony in that.
Obviously, Criminal is a wild concoction of stupid nonsense full of
people with hilarious names (there’s also Scott Adkins wasted in a minor
non-fighting role as one “Pete Greensleeves”) - at times hilarious, at times
more than just a little annoying, stupid throughout. The older actors
understandably go for all sorts of scenery-chewing, Costner perhaps hoping for
an Oscar as some sort of ultra-violent Rain Man, Wallace looking as if he would
really rather like to be elsewhere, and Oldman and Mollà just going all out
crazy. It is, after all, pretty difficult to be subtle when your character is
called Quaker Wells, and the narrative takes place in a world where everyone is
really good at murdering people yet also monumentally stupid. Things are made
even more hilarious by the script’s very earnest attempts at that human emotion
stuff Jericho as well as his writers don’t get, with many a scene that thinks it
does some “Flowers for Algernon” kind of clever tear-jerking when all it
actually does is spit out clichés without ever earning any emotional involvement
from the audience. It’s pretty funny, really, and made even more so by the
writers’ obvious difficulty to understand the differences between various kinds
of brain damage, sociopathy and the autistic spectrum. If only Pete Greensleeves
had been there to explain.
While this is all really funny in a way that must make Luc Besson quite
grumpy he didn’t have the idea, the film really lets its audience down with the
action scenes. Vromen’s staging here is barely coherent, not terribly competent
and lacking in all sorts of impact, making the action look not like the
too-stylized nonsense someone like Olivier Megaton had delivered, nor like
something a competent director had down, but rather like random jittery shots
strung vaguely together after what someone in the editing room must have heard
action scenes are supposed to look like years ago.
But hey, we’ll always have Quaker Wells.