Released with a bare bones marketing campaign (to be polite), it’s fair to have low expectations for this Ariel Vromen-directed (The Iceman) effort, even if its sheer weirdness prevents it from being a total disaster.
During a mission to stop a potential nuclear attack, CIA agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) is killed, and in a last ditch effort to stop the strike, Pope’s memories are transplanted into the mind of a death row inmate, Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner).
Yes, it’s a nutty premise (with the core excuse for selecting Jericho hinging on childhood abuse which left his frontal lobe underdeveloped), but as with any “high concept” film, you just have to roll with it. What truly makes Criminal so peculiar is that it’s a UK-set thriller starring not only Costner and Reynolds (though the latter amounts to basically an extended cameo), but also Tommy Lee Jones (who massively slums it here), Michael Pitt (sporting a ropey Dutch accent), and Gary Oldman (who, hilariously, is playing an American CIA handler).
There may be no movie scene this year more bizarre than the sight of Kevin Costner walking into a kebab shop, taking a bite out of another customer’s food, and as an employee threatens Costner with a random hammer, the shop owner tells his employee, “it’s not worth the kerfuffle”.
Costner then beats up some guys, steals their van, drives around London while listening to BBC Radio 1, goes to a cafe, grabs a coffee and punches a guy in the face, before disobeying blatant queuing etiquette in a library. It’s all very odd and hysterically funny if you’re British, but kinda works against the movie’s later attempts to be emotive and evoke sympathy; after all, Jericho’s just a giant asshole.
While it’s brave and refreshing to have such a ferociously unlikeable protagonist – and Costner certainly rises to the grizzled challenge – he’s still stuck in a movie that basically can’t wash away the stank of a mediocre SyFy TV series, with a cast far better than it deserves, and a rather unexpected R-rating to boot. Save for a brief shootout on a rotating bridge, the action is mostly uninteresting and blandly shot, while characterisation leaps off the deep end whenever it fancies, especially with regard to Pope’s wife (Gal Gadot), who buys into Jericho’s version of events far too easily.
It’s an immensely baffling effort and far too long for the nonsense it obviously is, but it is compulsively watchable in its strangeness, and props to Costner for totally throwing himself into what has turned out to be a thankless role.
Criminal is in cinemas now