The 80s were a great time for action thrillers. The 90s weren’t bad. Nowadays, as we escape the noughties into a decade no one dares to name (oneties?), action thrillers became the Great Genre Unicorn, the thing most directors want to get right, but not many can. For those of us that suffered through Looper and Lucy, watching the trailer of Criminal, with its side sci-fi-ish sauce, will send us to the mountains (or to the latest re-run of Greengrass’s oeuvre). But then, you can’t judge a film by its trailer, right? Er…
Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds, in his easiest paycheck to date) is a CIA agent that gets tortured and killed during the first 10 minutes of the film. Unfortunately for you-can-tell-by-his-name-he’s-the-bad-guy Hagbardaka Heimbahl (Jordi Molià), and for CIA’s big boss Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman) Pope was the only one that knew the location of super hacker The Dutchman (Michael Pitt). And what can the Dutchman do from his computer, besides hacking Facebook passwords and posting dank memes? He can access all the US military power and just, you know, play with it. Fortunately, Sciency McScienceFace Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) can transfer the memories from the dead spy to someone else (ain’t that lucky?), only that someone happens to be (or needs to be, because, you know, plot reasons) a psychopath by the name Jericho (Kevin Costner). Hilarity and random violence ensues, as Jericho feels irresistibly in love with Pope’s widow (that’s Fast & Furious franchise Gal Gadot) and daughter.
What works in Criminal, strangely enough, are not its thriller elements, but its An American Psychopath in London comedy act. From the kebab shop to the patisserie, Jericho is everything but a British gentleman (extra laughs for the Londoners with the guy who came on a fishing boat to Dagenham). Costner, playing very much out of his comfort zone, gets the audience on his side at least during the first part of the movie. Pitt also does solid work during his brief appearances, and Gadot tries to be more than a pretty face (unfortunately, the script doesn’t exactly allow it). As for Oldman and Mollà, they seem to be in the film as the low budget versions of, respectively, Al Pacino and Xavier Bardem.
Director Avril Vromen does a good job on the story’s first half, but as things pile up for the final confrontation, and Jericho gains feelings, the audience just loses theirs. The simplistic approach of the story (penned by The Rock’s scribers, Douglas Cook and David Weisberg), and the forced escalation that leads to the Dutchman’s final stand-off, make Criminal a highly unsatisfying film, as its premise and promises end up wasted for some gratuitous explosions and dreadful flashbacks to the beach (people that still do this should be heavily fined). Worse still, the final twist is – spoiler alert (?) – in that dreadful trailer.
Still worth a look on a lazy Sunday afternoon while laying on the sofa, at least for its first half, Criminal is not the action thriller film its cast deserved, and no amount of cockney accent jokes can erase that.
Criminal will hit UK cinemas 15th April 2016