‘Criminal’ not worth apprehending

2/5 stars

Man, shout out to Kevin Costner’s agent. With all due respect to Costner (I love “Field of Dreams” and I won’t apologize for it), the guy somehow keeps getting starring roles despite Hollywood’s predilection for younger, hunkier and probably more talented leading men.

But Costner has a down-home every-man appeal to him. He’s single-handedly carrying the load for Midwestern Dad representation in popular cinema, and he should be applauded for it.

“Criminal” represents a fairly serious departure for Costner, as he ditches everything I just said in favor of playing an empathy-devoid jerk who gets another man’s memories implanted into his brain. The intriguing themes at play here unfortunately fall by the wayside as the film shifts focus to bland, Tom Clancy-esque geopolitical strife.

Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) is a CIA agent who gets killed about 15 minutes into the film. Unfortunately for everyone involved, he had some pretty important knowledge in his noggin that died with him. You know, how to prevent imminent worldwide chaos and whatnot.

Pope’s CIA boss Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman, who shouts his way through the film) decides to enact an experimental procedure to transplant Pope’s memories into the brain of lifelong criminal Jericho Stewart (Costner) so they can be recovered. 

Stewart’s brain was damaged in a childhood accident, leaving him with an underdeveloped frontal lobe, resulting in a complete lack of ability to determine right from wrong. That makes him the perfect candidate for a non-consensual and possibly life-threatening government experiment. 

I think they’re supposed to be the good guys here, which is hilarious.

Before I get into the meat of my substantive criticism, I want to commend “Criminal” for its excellent character names. Jericho Stewart is a great name for an anti-hero, Bill Pope and Quaker Wells fit right into the CIA, and Xavier Heimdal is the perfect name for an anarchist villain.

Anyway, “Criminal” is at its best when it examines the concept of having another person’s memories, skills and emotions in your head. Stewart finds himself able to elude CIA capture and speak multiple languages in no time.

It’s also fascinating (on the surface, anyway) to see someone develop empathy over the course of a few days after a lifetime without it. Stewart develops feelings for Pope’s bereaved wife (Gal Gadot, doing it big in 2016) and young daughter, complete strangers to him before this ordeal.

Sadly, it keeps cutting back to this inane plot about a Dutch hacker who has control over the U.S. military and the evil Spanish guy who wants those keys. It would be the worst Jack Ryan movie and every time they cut back to that, I thought to myself, “Oh yeah, that’s a thing.”

The handful of scenes focused on Stewart grappling with the maelstrom in his head aren’t amazing cinema, but there’s at least a neat idea there. That alone wasn’t enough for the writers, though, so they had to tie it into some cyber-warfare panic nonsense, complete with stale action sequences and goofy hacker-speak about the “deep web” or whatever.

If you just can’t get enough of Costner in your life, there’s enough of a sliver of intrigue to make “Criminal” worth seeing when it inevitably comes to Netflix. Otherwise, you’d be better off enjoying his fine catalog of baseball films.