Ryan Reynolds is only in the movie for ten or so minutes (not including memory flashbacks), but it immediately brings back memories of “Self/Less,” which also starred Reynolds, along with Ben Kingsley. In the film, one consciousness is swapped for another and “Criminal” follows along a very similar path. Mind-swapping, memory exchange, consciousness hacking, or whatever you want to call it seems to be cropping up more and more. The plot to director Ariel Vromen’s film lacks finesse and is inherently ridiculous while at the same time trying to take itself too seriously.
Reynolds plays Bill Pope, a CIA operative stationed in London. When we first meet him, he’s grabbing a bag full of money and a passport and being chased by suited henchpeople. Cornered near a rundown factory, Pope is tracked down by a highly intelligent anarchist, Heimbahl (Jordi Mollà), who is intent on using him to find the location of former protégé, Jan Stroop (Michael Pitt), who has found a way to hack the highly secure U.S. military database and activate every and any missile at will.
Turning into a national security issue (and really, world security issue since Heimbahl wants to take down all governments and create a worldwide revolution. All while he sits behind his high-tech gadgets on his elite and pompous ass), CIA director Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman) enlists the help of a scientist (Tommy Lee Jones) who’s research insinuates that one person’s consciousness can be transferred to another successfully. Because without Pope, the CIA has no idea how to find Stroop.
The subject is criminal Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner), an untamed man who cares for no one and nothing and is vicious without realizing he’s done any wrongdoing. This is all because his right frontal lobe has been damaged, and since this is so rare, it makes him the primary candidate to inherit Pope’s memories (which include those of Pope’s family–wife Gal Gadot and daughter Lara Decaro). However, mixing Jericho’s sociopathic tendencies with Pope’s emotional attachments makes controlling him very difficult.
What is there to say about “Criminal” that can sum it up in one word? Well, the first word to come to mind is that it’s dry. It’s a thriller and yet there’s nothing all that thrilling about it. From the outset, it’s clear where it’s headed and while that’s usually ok, it doesn’t take the time to make us very much care about how it gets there. It all feels too by-the-book. Costner is used as the muscle, the scary criminal who’s basically forced to work with the CIA, but the turns around and does what he wants. Love and memories of Pope’s family are the things steering Jericho. This sounds touching and everything, but it’s all too bizarre to really be able to stomach. It also comes off as a bit creepy that he’s invading and endangering lives of people he doesn’t know while trying to prove that he’s come to care for them.
The plot makes the CIA and everyone involved look incompetent and slow on the uptake, most especially Oldman’s character, whose decisions are far too rash. The villain is a wealthy anarchist and his reasons behind bringing down the world governments don’t really hold any merit. “Criminal” ultimately lacks any flow, feels contrived, and the stakes don’t feel powerful enough to bring the suspense to a satisfying conclusion. Despite the multi-talented cast, the film is a thriller that is rather forgettable.
"Criminal" ultimately lacks finesse and the stakes don't feel powerful enough to bring the suspense to a head. Despite the multi-talented cast, the film is a thriller that is rather forgettable.