Criminal | Film review - Kevin Costner's thug with two brains keeps lowbrow thriller on track

Criminal Kevin Costner Jerico Stewart.jpg
(Image credit: Jack English)

A death-row convict has the memories of a dead CIA agent uploaded to his brain in a bid to thwart a terrorist plot. The setup of Criminal could hardly be more ludicrous, yet a growling, grizzled Kevin Costner somehow keeps this high-concept, lowbrow thriller on track.

Costner’s Jerico Stewart starts out as an unfeeling sociopath, his brutishness a consequence it appears of frontal-lobe damage, he having been dropped on his head as a child.

When, however, Ryan Reynolds’ CIA operative, Bill Pope, meets a sticky end during a mission in London, his desperate station chief, Quaker Wells (a shouty Gary Oldman), reckons that Jerico is an eminently disposable guinea pig for some experimental neurosurgery at the hands of Tommy Lee Jones’s radical scientist, who might as well be called Dr. Frankenstein but actually goes by the name Dr. Franks.

Criminal Ryan Reynolds Bill Pope.jpg

(Image credit: Jack English)

The aim is to transfer Pope’s DNA into Jerico’s semi-vacant brain and thereby retrieve the vital information the agent had discovered about a maverick hacker (Michael Pitt), a ruthless anarchist (Jordi Molla) and a plot to seize control of US military weaponry.

The operation doesn’t go entirely to plan and its aftermath finds Jerico taking flight, pausing now and then to yowl ‘They messed with my brain’ and beat up the occasional bystander.

He isn’t, however, entirely the person he was before. He has another man’s memories jostling inside his head, drawing him to Pope’s grieving widow (Wonder Woman Gal Gadot) and cute daughter (Lara DeCaro) and giving him the first stirrings of empathy and conscience.

Criminal Gal Gadot.jpg

(Image credit: Jack English)

This is all so preposterous you half expect Steve Martin’s Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr to heave into view instead of the relentless CIA agents and remorseless baddies, both of course still on Jerico’s tail.

For the most part, director Ariel Vroman (The Iceman) keeps the bullet-strewn action moving at such a lick that there is little time for irreverent thoughts of The Man With Two Brains’ cranial screw-top surgery to intrude. But it’s the admirably straight-faced Costner who keeps us watching right to the far-fetched finale.

Certificate 15. Runtime 113 mins. Director Ariel Vromen

Jason Best

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.