Friday, 9 December 2016

Movie Review: Criminal (2016)



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Memories are rather curious things. For as terrible and brilliant as they can be, both in the moment and the lasting effect they can have, every one of them ends up shaping who we are as people. Even those that end up being repressed because they are too traumatising to recollect end up shaping crucial elements of our own personal makeup. As such, whenever sci-fi or otherwise fantastical storytellers end up discussing the concept of memory, it usually ends up highlighting just how important memories are when it comes to who we are as people. So, with today’s film taking a similar focus, maybe it will bring a certain poignancy along those same lines. Somehow, though, I highly doubt it. This is Criminal.

The plot: CIA operative Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds), while on an undercover operation to bring down anarchist Heimdall (Jordi Mollá) and his associate the hacker known only as ‘The Dutchman’ (Michael Pitt), is shot down and killed. His supervisor Quaker (Gary Oldman), in a desperate attempt to salvage the mission, enlists neuroscientist Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) to use his experimental procedure to implant Bill’s memories into another body, that being convicted criminal Jericho (Kevin Costner). Once the procedure has taken place, it seems as if Bill’s memories have been lost… until they start to creep up on him, leading him down a path right to Heimdall.

The cast here is deceptively high-profile, and I say ‘deceptively’ because they are all collectively rather weak in their roles. Costner has a prominent reputation for dead-eyed stoicism as an actor, and while he works well enough on the one-note thug character that he’s given, he doesn’t really waver beyond his ridiculed comfort zone. Mollá and Pitt as our antagonists, given the histrionic plot that they’re involved in, are almost embarrassingly low-key and end up giving us two rather unmemorable performances. Lee Jones barely has any real meat to work with, resulting in a guy who mostly looks like he’s continuously disappointed in everyone (can’t exactly say that I blame him), and Oldman may have kept his character actor status in check but he’s hurt severely by just how incompetent his character is. Even for an actor as accomplished as him, making someone like that seem worthwhile is a tall order.

Between Reynolds’ involvement and the plot concerning the dead literally living on in the heads of the living, I feel compelled to bring up this film in relation to Self/Less. Except that prospect isn’t that easy because, for as bad as that film was, it at least laid a groundwork from which a lot of other ideas could have been cultured. Hell, the whole concept of the effect of foreign memories into a person was handled far better, and a lot more interestingly, in Alex Proyas’ Dark City. This, by contrast, doesn’t even create the possibility for depth, let alone carry it out. It tries to juggle the integrated memories plot line in with everything else that the filmmakers want to comment on and, as a result, it ends up getting lost in the shuffle. That’ll happen when you not only get a notoriously stoic actor, give him a low-level and frankly interesting criminal character and try to incorporate him into a narrative concerning a lot of higher-level technical ideas. Hell, just on a purely moral basis, Self/Less did it better because it recognized both of the individuals that were involved directly in the process. By film’s end, the issue of consent goes haywire and the actions of the government are made even dumber than they already are.

Then again, said ideas aren’t really given to us through the best of means. When your film about computer surveillance and hacking into said surveillance name-drops Snowden and George Orwell, without adding anything of note on its own, you know you’re in trouble. If anything, the very notion of the loss of privacy and security through technology is treated so blandly that it’s less commentary and more just elements of the plot meant to thicken it into a feature-length production.

The drama is exceptionally weak, both in terms of Jericho’s new-found relationship with Bill’s wife and child and in the overall plot. On the first count, there is barely anything resembling emotion in how it plays out, which even considering Jericho’s dialogue-established lack of empathy isn’t acceptable. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if that aspect of his character was added in to try and rationalize how little pathos is found within that dynamic. As for the main plot, through giving us not one but two villains that do little more than fill up space and serve as walking McGuffins to give any of what is going on a point in existing, there is no tension because nothing that is presented to us gives us any reason to care about the contents. Good performances could have done wonders to help rescue this film in terms of the antagonists, but quite frankly, neither of them are capable of raising their characters from anything more than just chess pieces.

All in all, this is bad but not even in any of the fun ways. The acting is weak, whether the actors involved are known for it or not, the writing is cobbled together and barely gives any time to properly focus on its individual elements, and the overall emotional weight of the film is pretty much non-existent, despite how the film apparently wanted us to feel something. It’s worse than Robinson Crusoe: The Wild Life, which may have been bad and, in some cases, worse than this but at least that film was memorable in its ineptitude. As my look at last year’s Hot Pursuit showed, being bad and forgettable is often the bigger insult to the audience. However, for as jumbled as the writing is here and I honestly consider it to be the source of most of the film’s problems, it’s still not as no-reason-to-exist as The Huntsman: Winter’s War.

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