Kevin Costner was once one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood. He could be your romantic lead, your action hero, or direct your Oscar bait. Were the 1990’s really that long ago? In more recent years, the actor has been keeping busy, but his leading roles have been forgettable. I can't think of one off hand. I wish I could say the same thing about Criminal. I can't.
Criminal opens with Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds). Pope is a UK-based CIA agent who has gone after “The Dutchman,” a computer hacker who has turned his back on his former anarchist compatriots and is looking to begin a new life. Unfortunately, said anarchists get to Pope before Pope can get The Dutchman to the CIA. Now, there’s a problem. The only man who knew where the hacker (in possession of a digital back door to all US defense systems by the way) can be found, is dead. The solution? Transplant the memories of the dead agent into the mind a living person.
Luckily, a doctor (played by Tommy Lee Jones) has been conducting this procedure on laboratory rats, and it’s been going fairly well. The bad news is the only person who’s in a position to be the recipient of said memories is an imprisoned sociopath, because he got dropped on his head at a young age and thus has an undeveloped frontal lobe. Kevin Costner plays Jericho Stewart, the sociopath in question.
While the science fiction elements of the premise put a new coat of paint on the story, what follows is essentially your standard amnesia plot. Jericho Stewart has vital information in his head, only he doesn’t really remember it. It comes in flashes that he doesn’t always entirely understand. However, over time, as the memories begin to get a stronger hold on Stewart’s brain, he begins to remember the details the CIA wants to know. But there's also a side effect. He begins to feel emotions for the first time, specifically in regards to the wife (Gal Gadot) and child that Bill Pope left behind.
The high point of Criminal is also its undoing. Kevin Costner plays a fairly convincing sociopath. We’re told at the beginning that Jericho Stewart has absolutely zero redeeming qualities about him. He brutally murders people for no other reason beyond getting what he wants at multiple points throughout the film. He’s well established as somebody who doesn't care about anything or anybody. The problem is this is done so well that it becomes impossible to relate to the character. How does one empathize with one incapable of empathy?
If Jericho Stewart transitioned entirely from Criminal to noble CIA agent, it might be possible to change our view of him, but this never happens. At various points, he’s able to clearly enjoy causing destruction and death while simultaneously trying to do “good.” The contradiction is stark and unsettling. It would be one thing if the character showed remorse even once for his actions, if these new emotions caused him a moment of self-reflection, but they do not. That's deeper than Criminal wishes to delve. He goes from villain to hero and back again in a flash with no explanation.
Instead, any semblance of drama is let go to make room for the action, which would be acceptable if the action was particularly interesting to watch, but it isn’t. The premise may cause you to think off Face/Off but this is no John Woo movie. The action is there, and there’s nothing wrong with it, but it doesn’t do anything to make up for Criminal’s other shortcomings.
While Criminal boasts an impressive cast, none of them do anything impressive. Gary Oldman is the barking CIA station chief who repeatedly makes bad decisions because the movie would have been over in 30 minutes if he ever made good ones. Alice Eve gets billing in the promotional material, which is odd, because she may have fewer lines throughout the movie than Ryan Reynolds. Gal Gadot plays a mother who lets her child play with a man who broke into her house, and that's really all there is to say about that. If anybody gets out of this movie clean, it’s Tommy Lee Jones, who gets to play a man who doesn’t want to be here. I understand where he's coming from.
In the end, while Criminal had a lot going for it, it simply fails to execute anything it tries to do to a competent degree. The film wastes talent, a potentially interesting premise, and the time of the people in the theater.