Sunday, February 4, 2018

Mindhunters (2004)

Warning: there are some structural spoilers ahead!

Controversial FBI profiling guru Jake Harris (Val Kilmer) is just about through with the newest bunch of psychologically highly volatiles trainees trying to become profilers. Their final test after training exercises that seem to have fuck all to do with profiling (which is a somewhat dubious “science” anyhow, but I digress) is to be dumped on an island for a weekend where they are supposed to hunt a fake serial killer.

The can of meat (Christian Slater, Kathryn Morris, Jonny Lee Miller, Will Kemp, Clifton Collins Jr., Eion Bailey, and Patricia Velasquez with bonus LL Cool J as a cop who’s there as an observer) will soon learn that that there’s something more going on than just a training exercise when a real serial killer starts picking them off one by one, apparently following their greatest strengths, or weaknesses or whatever. Will they soon turn on one another in the way that makes the least possible sense? You betcha!

Ah, the early oughts serial killer thriller, a genre that has caused more pain and suffering than the fictional serial killers in it ever could. How many films about improbably competent killers murdering a bunch of people in absurd and contrived ways do you need to screw in a light bulb, exactly? Clearly, director Renny Harlin wasn’t too sure about the genre being enough to carry another film either, so his Mindhunters does go on a spree of crosspollination with other genres. Most obviously, this is also a bit of a mystery in the And Then There Were None manner, bringing together a bunch of characters in an isolated place trying to figure out who is killing them off one by one. Just without characterisation, which is replaced by rather more unconvincing digital body parts flying hither and yon than you usually encounter in Aggie Christie’s work. And with no butlers in sight. The killings, though very much in the same spirit as Saw - which may or may not be a coincidence, since both films must have been shot at about the same time – also from time to time suggest the way Death in the Final Destination series works, only without the supernatural agency that makes their complicated and contrived manner plausible.

Because that’s clearly not enough of a melange, Mindhunters also aspires to be a twist-laden thriller, with mixed results. On one hand, one early character death in the spirit of Psycho does play well with an audience’s expectations about who is the lead character and star in this particular piece, when the film kills off the character that must seem most threatening to the killer first. On the other hand, the final twist regarding the identity of the killer is absolutely idiotic, making the way LL Cool J’s character acts in the scenes just before that completely inexplicable. That’s a sort of thing all too common in twist-heavy thrillers, but here it seems particularly egregious because it’s not just preparing the final sting but the actual finale. A finale, by the way, that consists mostly of two characters having a shoot-out underwater, for of course, there’s a bit of Renny Harlin-style action movie in the film too.

If you haven’t noticed by now, imaginary reader, Mindhunters is a film that very much wallows in the absurd and the contrived, seemingly on purpose choosing the least plausible and believable elements of all the genres it pilfers, so that Harlin can shoot them in a nearly absurdly slick mid-budget style. Turns out that adding gloss might not make anything going on in the movie more believable, but it sure makes it fun to look at.

And while the film really is as dumb as a whole congregation of rocks (having a rock party together on a rock island, I presume), it is not just fun to look at but indeed very fun to watch, for Harlin uses practically every single stupid idea in the script (and there are legions of stupid ideas in there) as the basis for some kind of exciting set piece, or at least a moment whose idiocy makes a guy like me chuckle in delighted disbelief. That last description also fits the clunky dialogue rather well, where no sentence sound good, or like anything an actual human being would say. Unless it’s a one-liner, then all bets are really off.

All these joys do make Mindhunters a highly entertaining watch, but the most glorious thing here is Jonny Lee Miller’s attempt at what I think must be meant to be some kind of US accent – Texan, perhaps? – as dreamed up by somebody who has only read about the way Americans talk. It is quite the thing to hear.

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