CRIMINAL PLOT SUMMARY:
The CIA uses an experimental procedure to transfer a dead agent’s (Ryan Reynolds) memories to Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner), a dangerous convict, in order to recover vital intelligence. The procedure is a success, but Jericho escapes, determined to find a stash of money the agent hid.
Kevin Costner’s career is peculiar. Despite still being a generally respected actor, he saw his rise and fall in just a few years, between the late 1980s and mid-1990s. During this time he starred in some of the most celebrated movies of all-time, including Field of Dreams and Dances with Wolves (for which he won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director). Since then he’s won an Emmy, but things have never really been the same after the colossal failure of Waterworld. Over the past few years though, he’s been popping up in films, including thrillers, as the main star power, which begs the question, “Why?”
As it pertains to Criminal, I think it comes down not just to star power but him fitting what the filmmakers were looking for. Since Taken, the demand for graybeard action movies has skyrocketed. If you’re not starring Liam Neeson in your movie, you’re probably going to turn to an actor like Bruce Willis (or in the case of The Gunman, Sean Penn). And let’s not forget The Expendables, the ultimate in graybeard entertainment. So, yeah, Kevin Costner works just fine. Costner is also easy to make believable as an old guy who’s spent most of his life in prison if you slap beard on him and tell him to say every line in a ridiculously gravelly voice. And to his credit, he does a good job with it, even though he borders on sounding like Batman. I bet he had a lot of fun pretending to beat the snot out of people.
Speaking of Batman, this movie has a lot of Batman and other superhero movie alumni in it. I guess that’s actually not so impressive though, considering virtually every actor has to sign onto a superhero movie nowadays, especially since it’s war between DC and Marvel. Still, Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Gal Gadot, and Kevin Costner (hardly a spoiler for BvS, by the way) all starred in Batman movies. What an odd coincidence. If I had to guess though, all these other relatively big names are in the movie because Kevin Costner is just barely popular enough to be the lead.
Gary Oldman and Tommy Lee Jones bring their A-games, of course. Both of them can act in their sleep. What I suspect most people reading this review will want to know about is Gal Gadot’s performance. The answer is that she’s good but not great as Agent Pope’s widow. There are a few moments when her acting feels stilted, especially when she should be afraid. Some of blame can probably be put on the writing and directing though. Gadot has more time to attune her skills, but until then she’s more of a model with acting talent than a bona fide actress.
As for the actual plot of the movie, it’s as realistic as any action or sci-fi movie. I actually didn’t know what kind of movie this was before I walked into the theater. I knew something about Kevin Costner’s memories, but other than that, I was pretty much clueless. This movie is almost a remake of last year’s Self/less, which also starred Ryan Reynolds. But instead of taking Ryan Reynolds’ mind and body, Costner only takes his mind. Both Reynolds roles even have a wife and a daughter, the memories of which haunt both protagonists. The only other major difference is that Kevin Costner’s Jericho is a violent psychopath. This leads to the movie being more violent than it probably needs to be. This violence is in Jericho’s character, but some of it is hard to watch. I go to the movies to be entertained, not to be made uncomfortable when a guy’s blood sprays out of his neck. Whether or not this grisly display is offset by the emotionless Jericho becoming more human is up to you.
Criminal’s biggest problem really is its questionable entertainment value. While some of action scenes and Jericho’s impulsiveness are fun, the film gets more serious as it goes on, in an attempt to make an emotional connection with the audience. Unfortunately, the serious stuff feels too familiar to be engaging in any way. It’s a harmless flick, but if you’re going to the movies any time soon, there are better choices than this.
RATING: 6 OUT OF 10 (AVERAGE)
Aaron Sarnecky is Pop-Break’s television editor and covers Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, among other things. He is a graduate of Rowan University with a degree in television and film. He probably remembers that show you forgot existed. Follow him on Twitter: @AaronSarnecky