Between this and last year’s “Self/Less”, you have to hope Ryan Reynolds has learned to never a borrower or a lender be, at least when it comes to his brain.
When a CIA operative is killed in London, the agency brings in an experimental neuroscientist to try and recover their dead agent’s memories in the hope it will lead them to the location of a hacker who has his digital finger on the button of America’s arsenal. When the procedure seemingly fails, the agency moves to dispose of the test subject, death row inmate Jericho Stewart. But Jericho has plans of his own and, on the loose, finds himself being hunted by not only the CIA but also a ruthless terrorist who wants control of the weaponry for himself.
There’s the bones of a half decent James Bond movie in “Criminal” but the execution is a hot mess of bad ideas and bemused actors. There’s nothing new in the idea of creating an anti-hero, a no-nonsense, takes-no-shit-off-nobody anti-establishment outsider who does what they think is right but in Jericho Stewart, “Criminal” takes the bold step of making their anti-hero anti-likeable. It’s never really explained adequately in the film why it’s a good idea to give a brain-damaged sociopath a whole life’s worth of CIA secrets and skillsets and even in the scene where’s he’s introduced through the clichéd reading of his file, the result sounds more like the CV of a would be Bond villain henchman. Ultimately your hero can get away with a great deal and still keep the audience onside but if one of his first acts is to murder an innocent bystander in cold blood then…well, good luck with that.
The film proceeds to waste a stellar cast on a dull run-around ‘adventure’ in the grubbier parts of the nation’s capital. London has rarely looked shittier on film, especially in recent years; “Criminal” does for London what “Bastille Day” did for Paris. Ryan Reynolds is actually pretty good in this but has the good luck to die early on, escaping the rubbish that follows. Gary Oldman phones in a performance comprised entirely of deleted Jim Gordon scenes from the Dark Knight trilogy (apparently its not just Paris’ CIA office that’s staffed by Brits), Tommy Lee Jones just looks lost and Kevin Costner grunts and mumbles his way through the film in a way he hasn’t since “Waterworld” – and those are just the good guys. Jordi Mollà’s villainous mastermind Xavier Heimdahl is so anemic and ineffective he makes every Marvel bad guy to date look robustly developed and invested with emoitional heft and motivation. The threat remains nebulous and distant because – like much else in this film – things aren’t explained well.
In a year where “London Has Fallen” and “Bastille Day” have already set the bar so very, very low, it takes something special to sink even further. “Criminal” is that special.