Criminal Movie Review
Criminal offers a different breed of Kevin Costner, but is the actor's gruff, grisly performance enough to make this almost-but-not-quite-an-action film worth it? The answer is a resounding… sort of.
Costner plays a sociopathic convict who, due to the traumatic brain injury that made him unable to feel emotion, is a perfect candidate for an experimental surgery that allows the CIA to transfer the memories of a dead agent into his head, with hopes of tracking down a terrorist who has seized control of the U.S.'s military network. Think Face/Off meets The Rock, only without the charisma or non-stop action.
Actually, don't think that, because Criminal is not like either of those two movies.
Criminal wants to be an action movie, and director Ariel Vromen inserts bursts of action and violence throughout to make us believe—or hope—it is an action movie, but Criminal is more like a weird thriller with an oddly likable main character—even though there shouldn't be anything to like about a man who will beat the shit out of someone just because he wants the person's hat—that barrels along, tripping over logic gaps and other head-scratching moments while never fully succumbing to its inconsistencies and outright face-planting.
All in all, Criminal is an entertaining movie, even if it isn't great. Costner is terrific as he grunts, grumbles and punches his way to his objective, a sociopath who takes a liking to Gal Gadot and her kid because he has her dead husband's mind inside his but really because who wouldn't take a liking to Wonder Woman. The character isn't easy, but Costner does as much with him as anyone could.
Vromen's film is gritty and remains straight-laced throughout, even though there are plenty of darkly humorous moments that you can't tell whether they were intended to be or not. The audience laughed repeatedly at moments where Costner does absolutely horrible things to other people—because sociopaths have no understanding of right and wrong—and there are times where it's hard to take the movie as seriously as it takes itself. One has to wonder what Criminal would be like had Vromen lightened the film's mood just a bit—or at least kept his film tonally consistent, which it isn't.
Frankly, though, the film's shortcomings lay with the story itself, and some of the characters. The filmmakers have two different stories at play here, one with Costner's character trying to get a bag of money while evading the CIA, the other with the CIA trying to stop a mastermind hacker from selling a computer program to an anarchist terrorist. The problem is that the latter story is so underdeveloped that the imminent threat you can tell Vromen and his writers intended to be big and dangerous and exciting never feels that way; instead, it feels tacked on, nothing more.
Criminal also wastes two major actors. Tommy Lee Jones is barely in the film and really does very little, and venerable Gary Oldman is trapped in a cliché and shockingly obnoxious CIA leadership role who gets way too much screen time considering that he essentially yells, screams, runs around like a child and makes countless idiotic decisions.
Criminal is the kind of movie that you watch, sort of enjoy, and then a few months later forget ever happened. The movie is entertaining—in no small part thanks to Kevin Costner—but it has too many flaws and weaknesses to be anything more than a flash in the pan.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.