Compassion can turn even the hardest hearts in “Criminal,” a sci-fi crime thriller from director Ariel Vromen that unfortunately mishandles an otherwise interesting premise. Kevin Costner stars as Jericho
Stewart, an emotionless psychopath on death row who is drawn into a conflict between the CIA and an international anarchist bent on launching ICBMs to start world-wide nuclear war.
In London, Intelligence Operative Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) is killed by a Spanish anarchist (Jordi Mollà) before he can relay vital knowledge to the CIA. Pope’s supervisor (Gary Oldman) approves of a risky strategy: Pope’s memories are transferred into the mind of Jericho Stewart, in the hope that the inmate will remember what Pope knew. But when Jericho escapes custody and Pope’s memories slowly fill his mind, Jericho must try to prevent a cyberterrorist from killing the people now important to him.
Stepping into a world of political thrillers, espionage and spies, “Criminal” at first appears to be tackling these popular conventions with a science fiction twist: What would happen if a man who had no impulse control, with no sense of right or wrong, was given not only emotions, but also the memories of loved ones and compassion? Early on, the story emphasizes reasons for Jericho’s psychopathy, and asks the audience to consider the factors that may cause criminal behavior.
But the true crime, however, is the speed at which the writers abandon this semblance of intelligence, relying on stupidity to advance the plot. Most notably, characters that are described as smart, high-ranking officials display little patience or understanding. In a scene that feels distinctly out-of-character, a CIA supervisor expects that the experimental memory transfer should have worked instantaneously, and declares the experiment a failure, only minutes after the surgery is complete.
The scene is completely misplaced, and throws off the tone the filmmakers had been creating up to this point. After this one scene, with suspension of disbelief broken, it is difficult to take the story seriously.
Costner’s Jericho is also depicted as an anti-hero; an attempt is made to develop this character, but the story ignores his more despicable actions. Jericho actually murders several innocent people outright, but faces no repercussions for these deeds.
As its saving grace, the story does manage to provide some nice emotion between Jericho and Bill Pope’s family. The best scenes occur when the audience gets to watch this formerly remorseless psychopath discover humility, even if these moments are limited. The film, for what it’s worth, tries to build upon this foundation, although the writing and characterization ultimately prove futile.
“Criminal,” from director Ariel Vromen, is an interesting premise held back by mundane, unbelievable characters, but still provides an entertaining escape from reality. The film gives several promises story-wise that it is unable to deliver upon, but the end result contains enough emotion for viewers to at least appreciate the narrative that the filmmakers were trying to tell.
My grade: 5 out of 10 stars.
(Timothy Hogg is a copy editor for The Derrick./The News-Herald. He has a minor in film and media studies from Slippery Rock University. Readers may contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)