"They stuffed your husband in my head, looking for details he knew before he was killed."
Every now and then a unique movie comes along. It’s the kind with a terrific ensemble cast, one that contains not just a series of great actors but a whole variation of different actors from various genres and ages in the hopes of amalgamating them in the hope of making a great movie, but ultimately the film itself turns out to be less than stellar. Other films that fall into this unique category include ‘Nine’ (Daniel Day Lewis, Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench and Marion Cotillard) ‘Be Cool’ (Uma Therman, Harvey Keitel, Danny De Vito and Dwayne Johnson) and ‘Bonfire of the Vanities’ (Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman, Bruce Willis and F Murray Abraham). ‘Criminal’ also fits into the category.
A sadistic criminal (Kevin Costner) undergoes a memory transplant with a secret agent (Ryan Reynolds) in order to extract information that he held. Not only does the criminal have to avoid the legions of perpetrators coming after him for this information but he also has to deal with the clash of personalities from the other man’s mind.
A few things to clear up before I actually start reviewing this film. Firstly, bear in mind that as well as Costner and Reynolds the cast also includes Tommy Lee Jones, Alice Eve, Gary Oldman and Gal Gadot. Secondly you may be looking at that plot and thinking “that sounds a bit like ‘Face-Off’ a film in which John Travolta plays a determined police officer and has plastic surgery to assume the identity of a dangerous psychopath, Nicholas Cage (I’d say a dangerous psychopath played by Nicholas Cage but at this point I’m not really sure). You would probably be right for thinking that, but imagine that instead of the gleefully over the top performances and the beyond extravagant direction of John Woo you had a bland and forgettable…..thriller (I guess)?
Lastly, any fans of Karl Pilkington may remember that on one of his podcasts with Ricky Gervais and Steven Merchant he recounted a story in which two film producers asked him to create a concept for a film. His pitch was Rebecca De Mornay playing the widow of Clive Warren (I assume he meant Clive Owen?) and undergoes half of a brain transplant to fuse their personalities only for their respective personas to clash and engage in a battle for dominance of her body. To all intents and purposes and I can only assume that was the influence for ‘Criminal’, and it’s even more ridiculous than Karl Pilkington’s film.
You may by this point be wandering why I haven’t actually offered any criticism of the film itself. The reason is that ‘Criminal’ is just so utterly forgettable. It feels like a movie that should have been a straight to DVD release. I would not necessarily say that the film is terrible, each aspect is fine. Performances across the board are passable but that’s made easier for each actor given how one dimensional each character is. There is no depth or substance beyond the initial premise and that is almost baffling. Here you have a cast filled with talented and capable actors and you give them the most uninteresting unprovocative roles you could have imagined.
The only person who is on top form here is Gal Gadot, in a film that is only slightly worse than her other appearance of 2016. To be fair though when I say top form I can only assume that because I haven’t really seen Gadot do anything else. She looked impressive in that other movie but there was so little to her character that she herself never shined (I hope you know what I’m referring to). As for Oldman, Jones and Reynolds, once again they’re fine but uninteresting.
Maybe there was potential for ‘Criminal’ to be fun action movie, nothing deep or complex, just an hour and a half of mindless entertainment. But the film takes itself so seriously and maintains such a sombre and uninspired tone throughout that it ultimately becomes very difficult to find any kind of entertainment value from it. The plot unfolds in such a convoluted way that eventually I couldn’t find a reason to care, none of the characters interested me, the direction itself was just so bland and uninspired with no style of its own and all I could do was try to think about how much more fun I would be having if I was watching ‘Face-Off’ instead.
For all its faults, ‘Criminal’ is above all else, simply forgettable.