Review: Criminal 

It's a lot of computer-hacking and brain-swapping, but it means well.

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Criminal conjures up memories of past movie magic. With Kevin Costner as a psycho killer, Tommy Lee Jones as a scientist and Gary Oldman as a CIA agent, it feels like an action thriller straight out of the '90s. And for the most part, its stars of yesteryear deliver the goods.

Poised to be this generation's Kevin Costner, Ryan Reynolds kicks the film off as government agent Bill Pope. We follow him around the narrow cobblestone streets of London as he makes his way to the Dutchman (Michael Pitt) — a computer hacker who finds a way to fire off American missiles with the click of his mouse. If you think that's a charmingly simple and silly premise, you're going to love what happens next.

Pope dies early on at the hands of Hagbardaka Heimbahl (Jordi Molla), another hacker who's hot on the Dutchman's tail. In order to catch him before Heimbahl does, Pope's boss (Gary Oldman) enlists a scientist (Tommy Lee Jones) to literally pick Pope's brain and transfer his memories to someone who can finish his mission.

Unfortunately, Costner's character, Jericho Stewart, is the only candidate for this experimental procedure. That's bad news because Jericho is a loose cannon. A hardened death-row convict, he's an utter psychopath void of emotion.

Despite his violent nature, Jericho is largely the perfect candidate — a blank slate for the CIA to slather with information. And, of course, he has a limited amount of time to help them find the Dutchman before Heimbahl blows the world to bits.

With its ticking time bomb scenario in which a criminal is humanity's last hope, the film bears striking resemblance to John Carpenter's Escape from New York. Costner even acts a bit like that film's hero, Snake Plissken, with his gravelly voice and devilish grin. But the true thrill of Criminal lies in watching Reynolds' character take over Jericho's mind, filling his dark soul with sympathy.

This is Costner's show all the way. Tough one minute and tender the next, he keeps you on edge; you can't take your eyes off of him. Jericho represents the compelling contradiction inherent in many characters from this genre. Like James Bond, Jason Bourne or Snake Plissken, he has the hands of a killer but the heart of a hero. (Fun Fact: Reynolds did this film because he is a huge Costner fan and Field of Dreams is his favorite movie of all time.)

Sure, Criminal has a silly set-up: Computer-hacking, brain-swapping — the stuff of '90s action fantasies like Face/Off, Virtuosity and Pierce Brosnan's Bond films. But like those films, it convinces you to suspend your disbelief and strap in for the ride. And like its main character, Criminal is rough and shaky, but its heart is in the right place.


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