Hollywood’s attempts to blaze up something “unique” and ambitious oftentimes results to a mind-numbing filmic mess. Kevin Costner’s new thriller Criminal is definitely no exception. The film basically goes like this:
In a last-ditch effort to stop a diabolical plot, a dead CIA operative’s memories, secrets, and skills are implanted into a death-row inmate in hopes the he will complete the operative’s mission.
The plot sounds familiar, huh? That’s because it is. How the film goes is simply like a more “serious” version of the 90s action hit Face/Off, but as it strives to do it ambitiously, it knocks itself down hard.
Criminal seeks to be complex, yet it fails to realize that it doesn’t have the capability to be such. In turn, it tries to keep its cool by playing out its perplexing concept as something that would pique our interest. The supposedly “exciting” and “thrilling” dialogue between the cast only manage to confuse us. Whenever they start talking, we immediately beg the question in regards to what’s going on, because it really tries to pretend that it’s building up to something worth the wait. Obviously, it doesn’t. It takes quick turns to divert from its mistakes, but it still ended up at the same place where it all began. Even the action sequences that it creates failed to look and feel impressive in spite of trying to do its best. Ariel Vromen, the film’s director tried really hard to infuse “complexity” with hard-edged, action-packed thrills. Much to his dismay, it failed miserably on almost every aspect. To make up for its non-effective competence, it instead puts out cheap thrills that looked “fun” like it suggested. However even with that, it still wasn’t able to accomplish its easy task.
For a low-rate thriller, you know there’s something very wrong when even the cheapest of the action scenes don’t do anything at all. However, if you try to ignore how ridiculous the cast are made to be, it sort of becomes watchable. To state the irony, the film’s ambitiousness in making us remember all of it horribly results to us completely forgetting everything in just a matter of seconds. There is never a moment in the film that would push you to the edge of your seat, but if ever there is, it’s just because it has a tendency to make you fall asleep so quickly. Yet, what makes Criminal even more vexing is that, it acts like it knows how to do things rightly and at the same time even attempts to exceed its capabilities. Whichever’s worse, you decide. All that can be concluded is that it never became what it wanted to be, and instead became a (no pun intended) Criminal by stealing our precious time. You’ll be gladder to fall asleep in the theater than let the film give you terrible kicks to the head for an hour and a half. Moreover, looking at the time and waiting for it to end is so much more exciting than everything that happens in it.
You think it is too boring, eh? Well, don’t worry. The cast never did any redeeming too whatsoever. Or, maybe it’s just the film trying to keep everything in control. Either way, it isn’t only Costner who gets wasted, but rather all of them. The film already had a simple cast to play with yet it never even saw their advantage, which hurts itself even more . It simply could’ve pulled something cheesy yet fascinating out of their actors and their characters, but instead it tried to go for the more “edgy” route. This only let us roll our eyes constantly as they tried to make us notice them. Kevin Costner alone looked detrimental to our sight as most of the time he looked awkward. Not because of age, but because of how the film portrayed his character. On some occasions, he looked weird and silly, even.
If there’s one thing that it (kind of) deserves credit for is that, it made itself look a little “smarter” for a straight-to-video kind of film. But still, that “feel” that it has in it is already a takeaway for Criminal in being an ambitious yet cheaply executed thriller. Its sheer foolishness to become smarter than usual only grants permission for the destruction of itself. In the process, the cast’s convenience gets ignored and the “potentially brainy” concept just gets thrown in the gutter. Director Ariel Vromen tries to play with the film outside of the box and in his attempt, he knocks it over and creates a mess out of his supposed cleverness. With all that, the film’s title immediately defines what it is in its opening 5 minutes: Criminal.
* Criminal is now showing in Philippine cinemas from OctoArts Films International. Rated R-13 by the MTRCB.