Thursday, July 28, 2016

Criminal


   Criminal feels like it's a DTVoD (direct-to-video on demand) movie. When things are neatly categorized and put on sale, Criminal would be lumped in with the likes of Marauders, Extraction, I Am Wrath, and whatever underwhelming madness Nicholas Cage has been in lately. But, that is an unfair and unbalanced grouping. John Travolta, Nic Cage, and Bruce Willis are certifiable has-beens. Kevin Costner is, surprisingly, not. From his great turn as Jonathan Kent in Man of Steel, (a role he reprised to great effect in the extremely divisive Batman V Superman) to crowd pleasing flicks like McFarland USA, Draft Day, and Three Days To Kill- Kevin is nothing if not reliable. And, for that matter, so is this movie.

   It's not an amazing movie, but it's a breath of fresh air in the face of many highly-touted but disappointing crime-actioners. It's exceptionally serviceable though never great. I had a big smile on my face when the movie ended, because it was satisfying. It's no steak dinner, but when you're craving a cheeseburger instead- the least you could do is get a good cheeseburger. Such is Criminal. The good cheeseburger. Unfortunately, I can imagine one having a major knee-jerk reaction to that news because this movie has a seriously amazing cast. A couple decades ago, this grouping of actors would've snagged a big name director like Oliver Stone or Martin Scorsese to direct. The caliber of the movie would've demanded Academy Award recognition.

   As it is, it came and went with no pomp and circumstance. Nobody cared. A movie starring Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, Ryan Reynolds, and Gal Gadot... barely made a splash at the box office. In fact, it barely made ripples in the pond. If it ever had any intentions of finding a fan base, you could even call it a sleeper hit in waiting. But... that's not likely, because it's not a steak dinner. All these Oscar worthy actors, and Criminal is still only a good cheeseburger. Which, on it's own merits, is fine by me. I thought Kevin stole the damn show in his role as Jericho, a criminal with brain damage preventing him from feeling emotions or understanding social norms. He ends up being the pick to receive the memories of a dead CIA agent, with explosive information that could... well, save the world from a madman.

   The scientist in charge of the far-fetched brain science is played by Tommy Lee Jones. The part could've been instantly forgettable if it wasn't for the amazing amount of empathy Jones infuses his character with. He cares about Jericho, and genuinely wants to help him for the long term, whereas the CIA don't give a shit about him. He's just a vessel for agent Bill Pope's (Ryan Reynolds) memories. Gary Oldman plays the CIA head honcho on this case and he certainly got some mileage out of the role. Swearing and shouting up a storm or two. He's a cold hearted bastard, but since he's trying to save the world as we know it, we kinda have to cut him some slack. During the memory swap surgery procedure thing, Jericho's vitals start to drop and he plunges into a critical condition. The doctors elect to stop the procedure to save his life, but Oldman's character violently interrupts...

   "You think I give a shit if he dies?" Which is just one of a handful of memorable lines from the movie that I really liked. None of these supporting roles are particularly memorable parts to begin with, but the actors behind them do their damndest to at least make them enjoyable. I found it funny how you could've easily swapped Jones and Oldman and they would've still sold the hell out of their roles. Jones could play a cold hearted CIA bastard in his sleep, and Oldman has literally played the sympathetic scientist before, not to mention his turn as Jim Gordon in the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy. Kevin Costner is probably the standout though, he was incredibly fun to watch.

   Far from the silent and brooding type, Jericho is unpredictable and unhinged. He's loud and direct, and now, he has the mild mannered personality of Bill Pope in his head, conflicting with his every action. For every "Fuck you!" he is compelled to apologize, and then he hates it. He's playing a fundamentally conflicted guy here, and it's a whole heap of fun to watch. If the character was sullen and quiet, the movie would've been much worse. So much of the movie's watchability rides on Jericho's antics. They stick out in the best way because 9 times out of 10, a movie like this is sorely lacking personality. The Jason Bourne-eqsue fights, and the rapid fire car chases, it's all standard genre fair at this point- but a character like Jericho is a wild card, and never in a million years would i have expected Kevin Costner to play the part- but he does it so well.

   There's also a very serviceable emotional angle to the story that works better than it has any right to, thanks in no small part to Gal Gadot, playing Bill's widow. If anything it's Ryan Reynolds that gets the short end of the stick, having MAYBE five minutes of screentime, which isn't nearly enough to make a character interesting or sympathetic in a movie like this. He's basically Bourne-lite, and we feel for him solely based on what we eventually see he left behind. In his own movie he could have done more with it, but this is unequivocally Kevin Costner's movie, and it's all the better for it. The villains are boring and perfunctory, nothing we haven't seen in what feels like a hundred Mission: Impossible movies, but such is the role and it works for the movie's purposes.

   I enjoyed the movie quite a bit, and the knowledge it could've been much better haunts it somewhat, but not too much. It's still a quaint and energetic little thriller with a sci-fi twist, and a fun performance from Kevin Costner. Like I said, it's a good cheeseburger, but it's no steak dinner.

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