Culver City Observer -



April 21, 2016

How can anyone pass up a Kevin Costner film where his character of Jerico Stewart reads like a combination of that in "Mr. Brooks" and "3 Days to Kill"? Then toss in Ryan Reynolds, Gary Oldman, Gal Gadot and Tommy Lee Jones with a script by David Weisberg and Douglas Cook and the directorial eye of Ariel Vromen who last brought us "The Iceman". Quite simply, you can't. A unique take on a CIA spy thriller with a Frankenstonian spin, CRIMINAL is a hard hitting, tech-savvy, high octane adrenaline rush with underlying social and moral implications ripe for discussion.

Ryan Reynolds is CIA undercover operative Bill Pope. Tracking an informant known as "The Dutchman" who has accessed the means to take over the weaponry of the U.S. military's Central Command, Pope is killed mid-operation. Problem is that no one knows where Pope was to meet The Dutchman and exactly how deep into the Dark Web the investigation went, something that infuriates the CIA's London chief Quaker Wells, always ten steps behind and totally manic (a man who should be having a stroke any minute with the tantrums and hissy fits he throws). But there may be a way to learn all that Pope knew.

Neurosurgeon Dr. Franks has been working on cutting edge medical science that will take the synapses from one man's brain and link them to that of another, thus transferring all memories. (Seems Japan has already been testing the procedure on humans while Franks has only been working with lab rats.) Wells wants to use Franks as his "hail Mary" play and have him perform the operation on a man. For Franks, the subject must meet certain specifications. Enter Jerico Stewart, a sociopathic death row convict who suffered brain damage as a child, leaving him with no emotions. He is the ideal candidate.

Flying Franks, his team and a mobile hospital facility to London, Franks complete the surgery. Rather than allow time for the synapses to start firing, Wells screams, yells and threatens Jerico - and Franks - as in Wells' eyes the surgery was a failure. He orders Jerico killed. Realizing Jerico is in pain and hoping for surgical success, Franks slips Jerico a pill to aid in his recovery which, it obviously does, as Jerico is soon employing al of Pope's stealthy techniques to escape Wells and elude capture.

Trying to come to grips with Jerico's own instincts and the memories and instincts of Pope, Jerico finds himself at Pope's home, breaking in (although technically not as he remembers the security code), ready to rape Pope's widow, but unable to harm her or daughter Emma.

Action intensifies as Jerico starts assimilating Pope's memories and all the information pertaining to The Dutchman. But someone else is after Jerico - besides Wells, who still may or may not want him dead. And it's not just visual memories Jerico now experiences, it's the emotion of family and love.

Costner is riveting, capturing both the intensity and confusion of a man battling the inner struggle of mind over mind. The emotional transformation we see take shape is touching and resonant. Gary Oldman is a scream with his performance, as Wells actually provides much comedic relief. Nice to see Costner and Tommy Lee Jones reteam for the first time since "JFK". As Dr. Franks, Jones plays against type with a vulnerability that is refreshing and human. A once again unrecognizable Michael Pitt mesmerizes as The Dutchman. And it bears mentioning that as we have seen in so many films over the past few years with Costner, his chemistry with child actors is stellar and here is no different as he enchants with Lara Decaro as Emma.

Influenced by the works of futurist Ray Kurzweil, scribes Weisberg and Cook (who penned the Tommy Lee Jones vehicle "Double Jeopardy") take it a step further with a nod to Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" in its conceptualization. Kudos to Vromen for his attention to detail, particularly with the futuristic science of the film, and notably, the surgical procedure. Actual surgical theatre and equipment utilized for a procedure such as that performed plus a neurosurgeon as consult, provides moments of edge of your seat pins and needles. A multitude of chase scenes - and bloody violence - takes place via large set-pieces throughout a less familiar London, something at which Vromen excels, intercutting action and Dana Gonzales standout handheld lensing with Danny Rafic's rapier editing between the real world/action/CCTV feeds/Jerico memories, giving grit and texture to the visual grammar. Jon Henson's production design is eclectic and telling as world collides.

Are there moments of confusion? Absolutely. And while typically that would detract from the film, here it works to its advantage and the mind of Jerico Stewart.


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