Kevin Costner gets downright nasty in Criminal, a quasi sci-fi action thriller with a big name cast and straight-to-video execution. Some of the plot elements are laughable and nonsensical. But there's entertainment value watching venerated actors drop F-bombs while racking up a bloody body count. The filmmakers went full steam ahead on playing serious with a Bond-esque villain and cuddly patriarchal subplot. It ends up like a B-film. Once you accept that, then there's some fun to be had.

Criminal opens in London with CIA operative, Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds), on the run from a powerful anarchist (Jordi Mollà). He's got a classified program that could literally topple governments. Pope takes his secret to the grave, much to the chagrin of the CIA chief (Gary Oldman) and the baddies. The U.S. military activates a test program to try and recover the critical information. A neurosurgeon (Tommy Lee Jones) transplants Pope's memories into the consciousness of Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner), a brain damaged, remorseless psychopath. The operation seems like a failure, until Stewart escapes and seeks out Pope's grieving wife (Gal Gadot).

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The first thing that occurred to me while watching Criminal was its similarity to Self/less. That's a 2015 film, also starring Ryan Reynolds, about a man who gets a new body after dying from illness. The difference here is that Reynolds is the donor, not the beneficiary, and essentially has a cameo in Criminal. Costner is the lead, and he's playing the most violent character of his career. He's not maniacal in his approach to Stewart's merciless nature. He's an unhinged tough guy, who of course, finds humanity while protecting Pope's family.

The old school leading men of this film, Costner, Oldman, and Jones chew up the absurdity with gusto. Oldman curses like a drunken sailor, is hell bent on stopping the terrorists at all costs, and isn't afraid to shed blood. While Jones, who's usually the hell raiser on screen, is the meek scientist swept up in the carnage. I got a kick out of seeing these guys go all out. They seem to be enjoying these roles and were committed to the performance.

The ludicrous plot and poor direction are issues, but not the weakest link in the chain. Interestingly enough, those aren't deal killers in Criminal. Gal Gadot has not proven she can act. Her career is skyrocketing. She's undoubtedly gorgeous, may be the nicest person in the world, but is a woefully bad actress. Her scenes in this movie are just terrible. She's supposed to be the heart, the feminine warmth that brings out the good in Costner's character. She doesn't cut it, not by a mile.

Criminal is a mixed bag. It's not at all what it aims to be, but I found Costner's dark turn to be worth watching. He's rarely the anti-hero, never this bloodthirsty, but pulls it off enough to raise the stock of the entire film. Check your brain at the door and enjoy it as a passable action movie.

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Julian Roman at Movieweb
Julian Roman