February 2021

Criminal (2016)

DIRECTOR: Ariel Vromen

CAST: Kevin Costner, Gal Gadot, Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Jordi Molla, Antje Traue, Alice Eve, Michael Pitt, Ryan Reynolds


Criminal uses a ridiculous premise as a launching pad for a generic action flick that generates neither interest nor excitement, at least not in more than fleeting spurts.  For a movie that often apes the Jason Bourne series, with a sci-fi twist thrown in, Criminal offers none of the compulsive entertainment value.

The titular criminal is Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner), a brutish erratic thug with an underdeveloped frontal lobe and no sense of right and wrong or appropriate behavior.  Jericho gets grabbed out of his prison cell when CIA agent Billy Pope (Ryan Reynolds) is killed in action because Jericho is the only name on the list of Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones), who is experimenting with transplanting memories.  It seems Billy was the only person who knew the location of super-hacker The Dutchman (Michael Pitt), who is stashed away in a safe house somewhere.  The Dutchman created a computer program capable of taking over the systems of any government in the world—enabling him to do things like, say, remotely launch nuclear missiles—and is trying to sell it to someone, anyone, in exchange for safe harbor before his pissed-off former employer, anarchic terrorist Heimdahl (Jordi Molla), gets his hands on him.  With the clock ticking, a CIA honcho with the rather silly name of Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman) pressures Dr. Franks into bringing in Jericho and pulling a memory switcheroo.  But Jericho doesn’t just get Billy’s knowledge; he also gets his memories of his wife (Gal Gadot) and daughter (Lara Decaro), and this kickstarts the cold-blooded criminal experiencing pesky feelings for the first time.  But the clock is ticking to find The Dutchman before Heimdahl and his henchmen get him first, and Jericho himself is less-than-entirely-reliable.

The premise of Criminal ranks alongside the Nicolas Cage/John Travolta flick Face/Off and the similarly-themed consciousness-transplanting sci-fi wannabe thriller Self/Less (in which a dying old man played by Ben Kingsley transplanted his mind into a young body played by Ryan Reynolds) as among the silliest in the action genre (which is saying something).  Although, in its defense, it does set up about the only moderately interesting element, as Jericho goes AWOL to the Pope residence and has uncertain interactions with Billy’s widow and daughter as Jericho grapples with these newfangled things called emotions and Mrs. Pope grapples with being confronted with a man who contains at least some remnant of her husband’s consciousness inside his noggin.  Alas, for the bulk of its runtime (just shy of two hours but feeling longer due to the lack of excitement), Criminal is content to be a generic predictable action flick that spends a lot of time poorly aping Jason Bourne.  There’s no memorable action, the movie lacks a strong villain, the convoluted plot is hazy to follow, the “science” is nonsensical (and comes complete with an arbitrary deadline that feels manufactured to create a contrived “moral dilemma” in the 11th hour for Jericho to prove he’s a changed man) and Jericho himself commits at least two acts that make him difficult to sympathize with, at least for quite a while.  There’s a lot of running around, but no excitement.

For such a seemingly direct-to-DVD level movie, Criminal attracted a surprisingly high-profile cast, but despite the names onhand, nobody is doing more than picking up a paycheck (with the possible exception of Gal Gadot, who shows more acting ability as an emotionally conflicted character than might have been expected).  When it comes to sixty-something actors trying to show their bad-ass credentials, Liam Neeson acquits himself more convincingly than Kevin Costner.  Anyone hoping for Tommy Lee Jones or Gary Oldman to add anything to the proceedings is in for disappointment.  Jones, seeming thoroughly bored, is so stiff and inexpressive that it’s like someone substituted him with a waxwork statue of himself.  Oldman goes the opposite route, falling back on his autopilot mode of lots of unnecessary over-the-top yelling in a “performance” that’s at times almost cringingly bad.  Jordi Molla doesn’t get a lot of screentime and doesn’t make much of an impression as our ho-hum villain, nor does Antje Traue as his henchwoman.  Alice Eve is such a non-entity as one of the CIA agents that I barely recall her being in the movie, Michael Pitt doesn’t get much to do, and Ryan Reynolds is around for about ten minutes.

Criminal feels direct-to-DVD despite boasting a well-known cast, and that’s where the quality level lies.  For bored and undemanding action fans, it might be adequate, but for everyone else, it’s as disposable as they come.  Spending money on this would be Criminal.

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