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Criminal imprisons itself in its own solemnity

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CRM_4221.NEF - JACK ENGLISH
  • Jack English
  • CRM_4221.NEF

Action schlock is often unfairly looked down upon these days in favor of grit and realism.

The days of enduring, big-budget films that actually employed levity like Face/Off and Independence Day are largely gone. Exceptions such as the recently revitalized Fast and the Furious franchise and last years’ Kingsman: The Secret Service continue to carry the torch by providing audiences popcorn entertainment spearheaded by talented filmmakers who have a blast making them. They are gems in a genre currently overflowing in self-serious garbage. Criminal is not one of those.

The basic premise of the film is promisingly schlocky: Kevin Costner plays Jericho Stewart, a gruff, brain-damaged convict facing death row.

Jericho finds himself subject to a new procedure aimed at implanting the memories and skills of recently deceased CIA agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds in what basically equates to an extended cameo) in the hopes of completing Pope’s final mission involving terrorists and a MacGuffin in the form of a computer program capable of taking control of the entire US military network.

There is a fun idea resting in Criminal. It’s your basic Freaky Fridayesque scenario in which one or more parties is forced to switch places, picking up new skills and learning valuable lessons along the way. We’ve seen it countless times in one variation or another. It’s a wacky premise too stupid to take seriously. However, if implemented in a clever way, it can lead to a fun, albeit convoluted romp.

One could easily see Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal appearing if this was released 20 years ago and delivering another “so bad, it’s good” addition to their respective film canons.

Sadly, in this particular instance, it unfolds in a film too self-serious to actually have any fun with it.

The thing that almost immediately sticks out about Criminal is just how dire the proceedings are. Director Ariel Vroman opts to keep the tone gritty and straight-faced as Jericho traverses the gloomy streets of London. There is not a smidgen of irony.

For every henchman Jericho dispatches, there is an innocent civilian he wantlessly assaults. This would be all fine and good if there was so much as wink the audience’s way. It’s a telling sign that the film is at its best when it embraces its madcap premise as Jericho begins utilizing his new skill set, such as speaking French or employing equally foreign concepts such as manners.

It’s too bad these moments are too few and far between as the buzzkill of a plot keeps butting its ugly head in.

Another frustration is the level of talent rounding out the film’s supporting cast. The likes of Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones and Gal Gadot are criminally wasted.

But it would be a mistake to write this off as a terrible film. It’s not, and in many ways, it’s a completely serviceable one.

If Criminal were to be guilty of any crime, it would not be its quality, but what a missed opportunity it represents. Instead of sticking out and succumbing to its inner lunacy, it adheres to the standard dull drum currently defining action cinema.

https://youtu.be/JNfRQ4NBjUU

Print headline: Positively illegal, Despite an all-star cast, Criminal fails to break out of its cookie-cutter action flick boundaries.

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