With Ryan Reynolds finally getting a film that perfectly used his skills in Deadpool earlier this year, it’s hard to watch him in the opening minutes of Criminal without thinking, “What would Deadpool do?” As it turns out, he does what Deadpool would likely do: he gets the fuck out five minutes in. Unfortunately, audiences will have to endure the rest of this sluggish excuse for an action film.
When CIA agent Bill Pope (Reynolds) is killed in action, his memories are implanted into the mind of a convict named Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner), whose frontal lobe damage as a child has left him without an ability to feel emotions, by a doctor (Tommy Lee Jones) under the direction of a CIA head (Gary Oldman). The surgery isn’t the success the CIA wants, so they plan to dispose of Jericho, but he manages to escape – and begins to get flashes from Pope’s subconscious giving him clues towards the information the CIA wants: a bag of money and the location of a hacker (Michael Pitt) with the ability to control nuclear launch codes. Pope’s memories also give Jericho several new sets of skills in fighting and spycraft. Jericho’s journey also leads him to Pope’s wife (Gal Gadot), which triggers some of Pope’s memories of domestic bliss and a sense of right and wrong.
It’s a convoluted story, but it’s also largely dull. Many of the film’s momentum requires intelligent people to make stupid decision, particularly Oldman’s CIA head, who questions the use of this procedure, then acts like he knows how to treat Jericho after surgery. But this sense of poor decision-making affects pretty much every character on some level. Why Jones agrees to performing the procedure, which is supposedly years away from human trials, is unexplained, but his laid-back approach to the orders feel odd for someone who appears to be going through each step in the process of testing his procedure. And for how urgent this mission is supposed to be, there’s no real sense of urgency on the part of anyone to do anything specific that doesn’t involve Jericho.
Mainly, though, this film seems to serve as Costner’s approach to the older-star action film that’s become popular ever since Liam Neeson created a new facet of his persona with Taken. Jericho’s lack of empathy or feeling means that he says and does many ridiculous, over the top things, all of which reinforce the idea that he’s not a good guy (even though he’s also the protagonist of the film, technically). But a few scenes in particular are so lurid, and so unseemly, that if they went a single step further, I have to believe there’d be massive walkouts. Without going into detail, they’re scenes that involve Costner with Gadot.
Here’s the thing: there’s an interesting enough concept in Criminal to potentially make for a solid action thriller. It would require a much sharper focus, though, with more commitment from the writers, director and cast. With the end product, though, Criminal is about as imaginative as its name. No wonder Reynolds checks out early.