Kevin Costner proves he's no Jason Statham - Criminal review

Kevin Costner in Criminal
Buzzcut or not, Kevin Costner makes an unconvincing killing machine in this mindless brain-swap thriller

I'm five years away from human trials!”, wails Tommy Lee Jones’s rogue neurosurgeon in Criminal, before being press-ganged by the CIA into doing a complete memory transplant within 48 hours. He’s to salvage the brain contents of a murdered agent called Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds), and implant them into the frontal lobe of Jerico Stewart (Kevin Costner), a sociopathic death-row convict fit for this purpose because of his absolute lack of empathy or emotion.

Stewart, who has a fondness for ripping people’s throats open with anything that comes to hand, could probably do with a personality transplant into the bargain. But all he gets are quickfire flashbacks to Pope’s home life, and a few clues about an international conspiracy involving an anarcho-terrorist called Xavier Heimdahl (Jordi Mollà, zero fun) and a brilliant Dutch hacker everyone imaginatively calls The Dutchman (Michael Pitt, inhabiting an oddly disconnected, rather more promising film of his own). 

Between these two, control of America’s nuclear arsenal is up for grabs, which is why London-based CIA boss Quaker Wells (a perma-barking Gary Oldman) is quite so desperate to tap Pope’s memory banks.

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Ariel Vromen’s film doesn’t dither overly about the science – Jones’s character gets little time to hold forth on all the research the screenwriters claim to have done into brain architecture and neurobiology and whatnot. This is because it’s far busier being meat-headed than clever. 

Rather than Bourne-esque spy thrills with a science-fiction upgrade, it’s more like the sort of pseudo-high-concept trash a Nicolas Cage (eg, Next) or Jason Statham (Crank) might lend their names to. And for all the attempts to spin it as a contemporary riff on Frankenstein, it’s the movie itself that’s a weird, lurching and unevenly stitched hybrid of stolen body parts.

Costner’s suitability as this buzzcut thug is highly debatable. He seems mainly committed to making him as unsympathetic as possible – Statham at his most bulldog-like has a thousand times more charm. The one big laugh comes from a complete stranger on the receiving end of Costner’s fists for being a bit snobbish: “Who punches someone in a patisserie, you animal?!”. 

Gal Gadot in Criminal

More in this vein might have helped. Dropping in on Pope’s widow (Gal Gadot) and young daughter, Costner has to perform impossible gradations of partial recall while also being an alarming psycho they don’t know from Adam, and certainly can’t summon the strangely sweet, childlike spectre of Boris Karloff. He comes over more like a delusional sex pest.

Really, though, it’s the film’s gratuitous sadism which starts pummelling the fun out of it, blow by blow. An early torture scene with Pope getting a cattle-prod to the face sets the grim tone, and a female henchvillain gets to know the underside of a heavy table lamp more repeatedly than is strictly necessary.

It’s wanton, low-down entertainment without the flair to pull this stuff off, or the neural stem cells to make wit or logic much of a priority.