By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
Seeing movies at an Alamo Drafthouse theater is, at the very least, fun. In addition to the availability of delicious food and adult beverages, just about every movie has a fun pre-show, featuring viral videos and movie trailers somehow connected to the feature presentation. Just prior to my screening of Criminal, which was held at a Drafthouse cinema, the usual variety of odd and amusing videos preceded the film. One of the videos was the original theatrical trailer for the 1997, John Woo movie Face/Off.
The reason I bring this up is because keeping Face/Off in mind is pretty much the mind-set one needs when entering Criminal. The filmmakers take an absolutely ludicrous premise, fully commit to it and try to make it fly. Face/Off has an absurd premise for their story, John Woo, the writers, and cast manage to make it work in spite of how idiotic the plot is. Criminal is very much in the same vein. One has to check the brain at the door, use some imagination, or just completely ignore the silliness in the film, and enjoy some junk food entertainment. And this movie does most certainly entertain.
Kevin Costner stars as Jericho Stewart, a volatile convict awaiting execution on death row. However, before Stewart’s sentence comes to fruition, he gets selected to participate in a highly risky, but ground-breaking surgical procedure. CIA agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds), while on an important mission of national and world security gets killed before he can complete it. A brilliant physician named Dr. Franks has developed a way to transfer memories from one human brain to another. CIA official Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman) taps Frank to transfer Pope’s memories to Stewart in hopes of retrieving some valuable information essential to completing the mission. The problem is that Stewart is much more resourceful and dangerous than the anticipated and with the inclusion of Pope’s skills, he becomes nearly unstoppable.
Written by Douglas Cook, David Weisberg, and directed by Ariel Vromen, Criminal is often times a thrilling and rather amusing movie. Sometimes the amusement that results is intentional, but other times unintentional. Aside from the ridiculousness of the film’s premise (and other things that happen in the film), characters often make stupid and unbelievable choices and the actors are probably guilty of the same crime.
Costner does mostly succeed in pulling off his role as an impertinent, cold-hearted and dangerous criminal and his character’s behavior in the film is a source of both shock and comedy. I found it rather refreshing to see him as a mean and ugly bad guy after watching him portray mostly benign, mild-mannered every-men for so many years. He does, however, make the occasional poor acting choice here and there in the film. He has a few scenes where his acting goes a little over-the-top or where he comes across as stiff or insincere.
The same goes for Gary Oldman who has a few cringe-worthy scenes of his own. To be fair, these actors have some moments in the film where the writing is so bad that they are struggling to pull these scenes off with sincerity. Director Ariel Vromen shows that his main strength in the film lies more in the intense and thrilling action sequences and not in the more dramatic and poignant moments. Besides the comedy in the film, the action scenes do deliver some solid entertainment.
As great as these moments are in the film, I’m not sure I can highly recommend seeing this film theatrically. I suppose I am willing to reluctantly recommend Criminal as a matinee, but cannot with a clear conscience encourage my readers to spend top dollar on it. The movie may be silly, goofy, laughable, and preposterous, but I have to say that I had fun with it. That’s exactly how I felt when first watching Face/Off in 1997 and how I usually feel when I watch it again. Whoever programmed the pre-show for the movie chose wisely in selecting the Face/Off trailer, because Criminal is very much in the same vein. That is without all the usual John Woo-isms–doves and gunmen flying in slow motion, Michael Bay-approved explosions, etc.