Once in a while a movie comes along that’s so bad it’s good. “Criminal” is so bad that it’s just plain bad. There is only one thing remotely redeeming about this hopelessly awful excuse for a movie, and that laurel rests on Gary Oldman’s ridiculously cheeseball performance. Oldman’s character should be called ‘Captain Obvious’ because his dialogue consists of nothing more than rehashing whatever is going on in the plot at the time. I am not kidding. It is so funny that ultimately, finding myself no longer able to stifle my laughter, I let out a hearty belly laugh that didn’t subside for at least three minutes.
The moronic plot deals with the early onscreen death of CIA agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds, the only actor smart enough to limit his screen time in this crap) whose memory is transplanted — I know, I know, you are laughing already — into hardened criminal Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner). Doctor Franks (Tommy Lee Jones, whose acting abilities have been diminished to nothing more than cantankerously shuffling around and scowling like he can’t find his way to the Country Kitchen Buffet for his early bird dinner) leads this miraculous transplant at the command of CIA bureau chief Wells (Gary Oldman, in one of the most unintentionally silly performances in recent cinema). As per usual, when the memories start to kick in, Jericho starts to have some lovey-dovey feelings towards Pope’s wife and kid (Gal Gadot and Laura Decaro).
There are some kooky plot points about an anarchist hacker and wormholes and misplaced flash drives (the audience thankfully isn’t left in the dark thanks to Oldman consistently shouting “don’t give him that flash drive!“).
“Criminal” is overly bloody and overburdened with fiery explosions and car crashes that dominate the film’s finale. I couldn’t stop laughing throughout much of the film’s ridiculous conclusion. Could “Criminal” have staked its claim as one of the ‘so-silly-it’s-awesome’ action films like “London Has Fallen,” “Bad Boys II” or “White House Down?” Maybe. But the entire cast and director Ariel Vromen seem to be earnestly playing it straight, which makes the film more worthy of audience pity rather than cult status praise.
This movie is terrible with a capital “T.”
First, if the preview has you believing that “Criminal” stars Ryan Reynolds, let me disabuse you of that notion. Yes, Mr. Reynolds, the master of the body-switch movie (see also: “Self/less“, “R.I.P.D.“, and “The Change-Up“) is in the movie, but only briefly. Reynolds plays Bill Pope, a CIA agent whose memories get transplanted into serial killer and prison lifer Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner). Pope’s CIA handlers (including boss Gary Oldman) hope to use Jericho to find out information that only Pope knew, but predictably things go awry. Jericho quickly escapes from CIA custody, and finds himself hunted down both by the CIA and by a nefarious terrorist network. Reynolds is the best thing about this film, and his part is concluded after the first 10 minutes or so. For the rest of the movie, it becomes the Costner and Oldman show, with a dash of Tommy Lee Jones thrown in for good measure.
“But wait!” You might say. “I like Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, and Tommy Lee Jones. How could a movie with all three of them suck?” Take my word for it: it doesn’t just suck, it sucks hard. Costner’s performance is a one-note series of grunts and growls indistinguishable from those we got from Christian Bale’s Batman. Oldman, as the chief CIA agent in charge, may as well have been called “Mr. Shouty,” because that’s pretty much all he did. Jones was a little more understated — and therefore the best of the three — but his character and the lines assigned to him were so inane that he was unable to elevate this material.
“Criminal” is full of logical plot holes that quickly pile up, one on top of the other, and the fall under their own weight. Look, I can suspend my disbelief as well as the next guy. But this film doesn’t just ask you to suspend disbelief: it asks you to check your brain at the door. It’s simply impossible to accept this low-rent and dumbed-down world of spycraft when there are so many better options out there.
At some point, this dim-witted movie got so absurd that it actually became funny (so there’s a positive, I suppose). Just for fun, here’s a partial list of some of its many problems:
- The CIA is so inept at its tradecraft that “The Agency” becomes indistinguishable from the Keystone Cops.
- The head bad guy is a direct rip off of Javier Bardem’s character from “Skyfall,” except unlike the “Skyfall” baddie, he has zero personality and an unexplained array of hacking abilities beyond that ever seen in any movie, anywhere.
- There is a Russian female assassin reminiscent of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, who serves no apparent purpose other than to check a box on some focus-grouped list.
- The key MacGuffin in the picture is some kind of super hacking tool that allows anyone to command all U.S. military assets, including nuclear missiles. Despite the possible world-ending value of this item, the CIA can apparently only afford to task 10, maybe 15, people to find and obtain / destroy it.
- More on that point: this movie takes place entirely in the U.K., and despite the bad guy using weapons that pose an immediate threat to the country’s most populous city of London, we see zero involvement of the British government.
- Tommy Lee Jones plays a doctor who talks like he is just making s*** up as he goes along, but everyone believes every single word he says.
Okay, I have to stop at some point so this is as good as any. Don’t go see “Criminal” in the theater, skip it in Redbox, and delete it from your Netflix Queue.