The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Criminal is a difficult movie to classify. It's a drama, although it has parts that are funny. It contains elements of science-fiction, which are never maximized as fully as they could be. There's some action, but not enough of it to technically classify as an “action movie.” It has a prestige cast, yet it isn't going to win any awards. And this is the problem. Criminal wants to be all kinds of things, only to end up being not much of anything.

Ryan Reynolds plays Bill Pope, a CIA operative attempting to bring down an international terrorist. The key to doing this is a hacker named Jan “The Dutchman” Stroop (Michael Pitt), who has infiltrated U.S. military technology. Stroop is hidden in a secret location, and when Pope is killed, CIA boss Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman) panics. For help, he turns to Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones), a neurosurgeon who developed an experimental procedure to transplant memories from one brain to another. Wells wants him to put everything Pope knew into someone else's head so that they can locate the hacker. That person is Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner), a death row inmate whose childhood head injury somehow makes him the best possible fit. Jericho is a psycho with no conscience, so he doesn't know what to do with all of Pope's loving memories of his wife Jill (Gal Gadot) and young daughter.

To his credit, Kevin Costner seems to understand the loopy appeal of this premise. He visibly relishes the chance to play a character who is so unrepentantly brutal and uncaring. Several humorous scenes are designed around Jericho's temper, including one in which he takes on an obnoxious coffee shop customer. His frequent use of a certain twelve-letter profanity to address other people is also played for laughs. At the same time, Costner effectively conveys how having compassionate memories implanted into his brain opens Jericho up to things he's never experienced before. At first he's confused by these new emotions, but over time he comes to embrace them. There's quite a bit here to work with, and the actor nails all of it.

Jones, Oldman, and Gadot are solid in their respective roles, as well. It's the story that doesn't hold water. Sections devoted to Jericho coming to terms with his change are effective, but Criminal eventually has to get down to the business of him finding Stroop and apprehending the bad guy. That's where it falls way short of the mark. The terrorist, Heimdahl (Jordi Molla), is about as generic a villain as you can imagine, so he doesn't project a whole lot of palpable menace. His evil plot, meanwhile, is little more than a MacGuffin, as is Stroop's infiltration of military weaponry. Because the threat is just an excuse to give Jericho a ticking clock to beat, huge chunks of the plot fall flat. Not even an occasional shootout or car chase are sufficient to liven things up.

Criminal suffers from the same general malady that hindered last summer's Self/Less (which, incidentally, found Ryan Reynolds on the opposite end of this mind-swapping deal). Both films try to plug a potentially interesting What if? scenario into a routine crime story. In each case, the element that is the most inherently compelling eventually takes a back seat to mayhem and forced dramatic revelations. There's little doubt that Criminal, in particular, would have been far more fascinating had it just stuck with the idea of a very bad man struggling to accept that he abruptly has a little bit of goodness injected into him.

When all is said and done, the film tries to insert too many things into its plot. The good parts are pretty engrossing. The parts that are only half-developed do nothing but make you wish director Ariel Vromen and writers Douglas Cook and David Weisberg (The Rock) had opted to exclude them. Criminal is intermittently entertaining, but when you squander a cast like this and a cool sci-fi premise, intermittent entertainment equals overall disappointment.

( out of four)

Criminal is rated R for strong violence and language throughout. The running time is 1 hour and 53 minutes.

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