Editor’s Notes: Criminal is currently playing in wide theatrical release.
The premise for Criminal is simple: When CIA agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) dies in the middle of a mission, a team of doctors and scientists led by the meek Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) “transfer” Pope’s memories to the brain of gravel-voiced sociopathic jailed criminal Jericho Stewart (Kevin Cotsner). This will allow the CIA to use Jericho to draw on Pope’s memories to “remember” where The Dutchman—the CIA’s target—is hiding. Perhaps to be expected in a film called Criminal, the film contains violence; however, the violence eventually becomes more a tool for shock value than any kind of value or substance for the storyline, so that the goal of the eponymous criminal becomes nearly forgotten in the melange of punching, stabbing, and shooting, punctuated by moments of tenderness that are contextually laughable.
. . . the goal of the eponymous criminal becomes nearly forgotten in the melange of punching, stabbing, and shooting.
Simple and intriguing though the sci-fi premise may be, the film is so wrought with cheesy one-liners, predictability and thorough lack of believability that it fails at nearly every turn. Costner is the film’s only saving grace, at least delivering a performance as the hulky criminal that keeps the viewer’s eye on him, even as it may wish to wander during all other parts of the two hour saga that feels far longer. Gary Oldman was purely wasted as the CIA superior who did little beyond bark angrily at people, fail to see reason and short-sightedly give up on the experiment within 5 minutes post-surgery. Tommy Lee Jones’ doctor character begged for more development, as there was no clear explanation for the soft spot he had for Jericho, and his belief that the transferred goodness from Pope to the criminal would draw out the sociopath’s undeveloped humanity. Reynolds, as Pope, was seen for such a short time there is purely little to comment on—he performed his death scene acceptably, if anything.
Criminal lives up to its name in that fails to thoughtfully develop, thereby wasting an interesting sci-fi premise; regrettably, the would-be thriller accidentally enters comedy territory.
Little sense did it make that Pope’s teary-eyed widow Jill (Gal Gadot), bound, gagged and nearly raped by Jericho at their first encounter, would, within a day, tenderly trust that her husband’s implanted memories would turn Jericho into a good person, after which point she allowed him to sleep on her couch and cook waffles and play the piano with her daughter, Emma, played woodenly by Lara Decaro. While it’s a wistful the notion that one good man’s memories could turn a violent criminal into a good person, implanting memories does not equate to a transfer of a person’s soul. While Jill grew more affectionate for Jericho as his brain began firing heretofore unexperienced emotions throughout himself, it was decidedly uncomfortable to watch the grief-stricken widow develop feelings for this violent murderer: she seemed to forget that Jericho is not Pope, clearly wanting Jericho to turn “good” so she could repair her family unit.
In the end, Criminal is truly a popcorn movie, requiring no critical thinking and demanding an absolute suspension of disbelief at every moment to accept that any of these characters would truly say or do any of these things in real life. Criminal lives up to its name in that fails to thoughtfully develop, thereby wasting an interesting sci-fi premise; regrettably, the would-be thriller accidentally enters comedy territory.
Simple and intriguing though the sci-fi premise may be, the film is so wrought with cheesy one-liners, predictability and thorough lack of believability that it fails at nearly every turn.