A couple of years back, in 3 Days to Kill, Kevin Costner tried his hand at playing a hardbitten action hero in the latter day Liam Neeson mould. While that film was largely forgettable, Costner ended up making it a lot more engaging than would otherwise have been warranted, and one can say the same thing about his latest actioner, the mind-bending, body-swapping thriller Criminal. Oddly enough, for the last few years we've seen a pattern emerge where two Costner pics open within weeks of each other, one bad, one good.
You might recall that (minor spoiler) Batman v. Superman a few weeks ago featured a spectral appearance by the actor as Superman's deceased papa. And given how spectacularly god-awful that picture was, it has the sideways benefit of making Criminal, by default, the "good" Costner flick for this year. Well, "good" might be overselling things a bit. As boilerplate thrillers go, it's mostly diverting, and moderately engrossing, but not quite worthy of the top-drawer cast that's been assembled in front of the camera (including Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, Gal Gadot, and more).
Directed by Ariel Vroman from a script by Douglas Cook & David Weisberg, film has ace CIA agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds, taking a 2016 victory lap after Deadpool demolished the box office earlier this year) killed in the middle of a high stakes operation securing an asset known as the Dutchman. With Pope the only man who knew the Dutchman's location, and an evil techno anarchist (Jordi Molla) out to find him, CIA chief Quaker Wells (Oldman) authorizes an experimental procedure wherein Pope's brain patterns and memories will be implanted into the brain of jailed killer Jericho Stewart (Costner).
Why does he do this? Because, as we'll learn during the course of the film, Wells has the unerring knack of making the absolute wrong decision at every possible turn. (Oldman is basically reprising the same shouty character he played in 2014's Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.) Anyway, as Pope's memories began to manifest in Stewart, we see the hardened sociopath start to feel the stirrings of conscience, not to mention an emotional attachment to the dead agent's widow (Gadot) and daughter. Adding to the complications, the procedure comes with its own ticking clock, as Stewart will lose the new memories after a few days (think of it as Charly with more dismemberments).
To its credit, Criminal makes some effort to make its goofy premise (which has echoes of 1997's gonzo John Woo pic Face/Off) feel grounded in its own internal reality (bonus points to Tommy Lee Jones uttering a lot of medical mumbo-jump while doing his "serious" face). And though the central McGuffin (an ominous computer program called "the Wormhole") feels like a lot of nonsense, it does give the third act some necessary propulsion. Ultimately, Criminal is a harmless, if disposable piece of pre-summer entertainment, and as is so often the case, even when the material doesn't measure up, Kevin Costner is just eminently watchable. Really, it's criminal. C+
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