In what is one of those bizarre Hollywood coincidences, Criminal is the second film in under a year to feature Ryan Reynolds in a body-swap thriller.Whilst Tarsem Singh’s Self/Less saw the actor take on the personality of Sir Ben Kingsley’s dying multimillionaire, this time it is he who has his memories transferred into a complete stranger.
Reynolds plays CIA operative Bill Pope, a family man who is killed in action. With the secret whereabouts of a hacker named “The Dutchman” – yes, really – locked inside of Pope’s mind, his memories, thoughts and skills are implanted into the brain of a dangerous, life-long criminal who is sat on death-row. Whilst the CIA hope that the convict, Jericho, will be able to lead them to their target, the split personality of the convict and the government agent threaten the operation. Will Bill’s memories and emotions be enough to kill Jericho’s appetite for violence, or will the criminal forever remain that way? Why is Gary Oldman always yelling?
A premise such as this has all the makings of something that, handled correctly, could be a lot of ridiculous fun. For some of the time, Criminal is just that. Whether it is intentional or not, the film’s first half-hour is laughably ludicrous as Kevin Costner’s gruff-voiced and super-macho Jericho drives around the streets of London, assaulting various people and dancing to Foals on Radio One. One particularly hilarious sequence sees Costner come to blows with a posh Londoner whilst ordering a coffee. Bloodied and on the floor, the innocent chap asks “Who punches someone in a patisserie? You animal!”. It’s one of many hilariously terrible lines throughout the film, which at least hint toward the film not taking itself too seriously.
The problem is that is isn’t long before the film starts to do just that, as Jericho begins to form a relationship with the grieving wife and daughter of Bill Pope. From that point, it doesn’t take a film-genius to know which direction the story is heading, and things become very dull, very fast. There’s around a good thirty-minute section of the film where it feels lost and tonally confused with the added sentimentality ultimately distracting from the potential fun.
Then you have the crater sized plot holes that are frankly embarrassing to watch. I know that with films like this you have to switch your brain off to an extent, but am I seriously supposed to belive that the villains can hack into the CIA and track their agents, but have no clue as to where this hacker is hiding? Am I honestly supposed to think that the very same people who killed Bill Pope, wouldn’t immediately think to look for Jericho at Pope’s old residence where he’s happily cooking chicken and waffles with his family? I can forgive a film’s stupidity to a point, but I found it difficult to go alone with Criminal when its flaws were so glaringly obvious.
It’s a shame. I like the concept and, above all else, I like the cast. Kevin Costner seems to be having some fun with the role at least, and you have heavyweights such as Gary Oldman and Tommy Lee Jones in supporting roles as well. That said, it does feel like a pay cheque-type film for everybody involved – it’s as if Tommy Lee Jones just showed up for a days work worth of looking concerned, whilst I get the impression that Oldman yells a lot because he doesn’t really know what is going on.
I wasn’t expecting much from Criminal and got even less than I had hoped for. Its initial promise of being a piece of dumb but fun cinema is squandered pretty early on. I’m sure there’s a good film in there somewhere, but, in its current form, it’s criminal by name and criminal by nature.
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