If the Razzies institute a “Worst Nicolas Cage Movie That Doesn’t Star Nicolas Cage” award this year, Ariel Vromen’s Criminal will be a 2:1 favorite. Fugitive-on-the-run action teases an energetic 90s vibe, but as generic thrills take over, an uber-serious agenda reveals a more serious core. Could people actually believe they were making a high-class experience, here?
What’s essentially a reverse Self/Less scenario follows one of 2016’s most dimwitted plotlines, which isn’t helped by a strive to attain some semblance of straight-laced integrity. Vromen has handled loaded casts before, chilling audiences with The Iceman, but Criminal’s inexcusable waste of such a stacked, Mt. Olympus-sized cast suggests quite the opposite. You want to know what the real crime here is? Pretty much everything.
The film opens with Reynold’s CIA Agent character, Bill Pope, refusing to give up the location of a man codenamed ” The Dutchman” (Michael Pitt). You’d think this is where Pope gets rescued while being tortured, but Reynolds fans will be disappointed to hear that he’s killed within minutes, and Kevin Costner’s mentally-stunted killer, Jericho Stewart, becomes the film’s anti-hero.
Stewart, who undergoes memory implantation surgery, is meant to help the CIA locate “The Dutchman” before a rejected Bond villain beats them to the punch. At stake? A cyber wormhole that grants control to the United States’ missile armada, which could bring about WWIII – or worse. Unfortunately, Jericho doesn’t feel like co-operating and uses Pope’s memories to search for a large bag of money instead. Such are the priorities of a delusional criminal.
The funny part is, there’s no real issue with Costner’s performance. He’s ferocious and kind of funny, but with Vromen’s deathly stern direction, and a wastefully sappy screenplay from writers Douglas Cook and David Weisberg, Costner’s intimidating barks (literal dog barkings) play horrendously out of scene.
Jericho, an unpredictable sociopath who murders innocent people without remorse, is also seen “booping” his own nose and cooking waffles for children. There’s a hardcore action subplot buried somewhere – akin to, say, Face/Off – but seesawing tonalities try to legitimize a laundry list of wholly unbelievable genre-focused stupidity. And no – I’m not even referencing Jericho’s memory implants. How about starting with an injured, escaped felon’s ability to waltz around Germany without raising alarms?
Embarrassingly, Criminal somehow buries a veritable cast of icons, and forces supporting actors like Scott Adkins and Alice Eve to play nameless faces who barely get a line worth delivering. None of their arcs are weighted properly, especially Gary Oldman’s bulldog aggression as the lead CIA authority, or Gal Gadot, who takes a liking to Jericho because of Pope’s ingrained memories.
There’s a horrendously executed sequence where Gadot’s character, Jill, allows Jericho to stay the night in her house, because she believes her dead husband’s memories are preventing Jericho from slaughtering her and her daughter. It’s a wholly unnecessary stab at emotional gravity, too dramatized and mushy for an otherwise take-no-prisoners espionage thriller. At one point, you almost half expect Gadot to lay beside Jericho – it’s that intensely Hallmarked.
Criminal ends up suffering from a more confusing identity crisis than its own main character does, as Vromen fights like a sea captain caught in gale force winds to keep his vessel steady. One minute Costner crudely laughs at a gay couple making out (to show his asshole side?), and the next he’s pouring his heart out to a woman he’s never met. It’s understood that we’re supposed to experience a night/day contrast with Jericho Stewart, but Vromen’s jarring adaptation of such a jumbled screenplay only worsens this cavalcade of all-too-serious hiccups. Inept henchman and pointless character deaths are just the tip of this expansive iceberg.
Fans of air-tight actioneers, I promise there’s nothing for you here. Criminal is as confused as Jericho Stewart, and as dead as the never-changing expression on Tommy Lee Jones’ face. It’s a tonal dumpster-fire that permits no survivors and lacks the 90s-inspired foolishness it so desperately requires. Either Costner needed to play his character with a straighter face, or Vromen needed to hide a horrendous plot under more ludicrous, Shoot ‘Em Up-style intensity. I say this with the sternest face, but honestly – where’s Nic Cage when you need him?
The biggest crime that Criminal commits is wasting an A+ cast on a D+ production.