Ryan Reynolds is having a very blessed 2016. His alter ego, Deadpool, is only a few million dollars away from topping Jesus in The Passion of the Christ as the titleholder of the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time. And in the ugly, inept, lifeless thriller Criminal, he merely appears for the opening five minutes before being killed via electroshock torture wands in the mouth. Not a bad way to go. The above-the-title star power of the sarcastic actor might draw a few fans to the theater on opening weekend, but his sullen presence only intensifies the solemnity and tedium of the nearly two hours that follows. Even during the electroshock sequence, you might imagine Deadpool saying, “Don’t tase me, bro” to give the film some spark or imagination.
Instead, Criminal is all flaccid action scenes, run-on violence and even by the midway point sentimental, as when it folds in the tear-stricken wife (Batman v Superman’s Gal Gadot) of Reynolds’ character. He plays a CIA agent named Bill Pope, whose crucial memories are implanted into the cranium of frontal-lobe-damaged convict Jerico (Kevin Costner) by a taciturn doctor (Tommy Lee Jones) on orders from the Agency’s hothead director (Gary Oldman). Some hubbub has been made about Criminal being a reunion for those three actors, all of whom appeared — magnificently — in Oliver Stone’s JFK 25 years ago, though that fact again underlines the gloom of where they find themselves now. (Most of all for Oldman, whose cynicism towards the film industry is indeed reinforced by his totally phoned-in performance.)
The surgery is not a success and the semi-Neanderthal Jerico ends up on the loose, with occasional brain farts from Pope’s subconsciousness guiding him towards a plot involving Russian hackers and arms dealing. Jones’ neurosurgeon character is named Dr. Franks — as in “-enstein” — and that’s basically the script’s low bar level of cleverness regarding its formula. But since even before Mary Shelley’s gothic horror tale, stories of transplanted identities require just a bit of narrative oomph to get up and go. This is a scenario to have fun with — and that’s been true across all genres, from untold adaptations of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to the Steve Martin/Lily Tomlin classic All of Me to John Woo’s wickedly silly Face/Off.
But Criminal’s story moves like a fat cow. Costner and Oldman’s characters are sluggishly chasing after — irony alert! — a big black duffel back full of $100 bills, hidden behind a stack of George Orwell books. Those are, incidentally, U.S. dollars in the bag, which wouldn’t be unusual except that the entirety of Criminal is inexplicably set in London, a geographical detail that even confounded the press notes, which the studio generates as an info sheet for journalists and critics. “The NYPD name, logos, and insignia are trademarks of the City of New York and used with the City’s permission,” the document reads, followed by a note in parenthesis, presumably meant to be private: “??? Was listed on Production wrap end roller but why???”
When it comes to Criminal, someone should have asked “Why???” long before that point. D