"Criminal" is more violent than it needs to be, but it also has some unexpectedly involving elements. Half science-fiction tale, half espionage thriller, it's a pleasantly far-fetched endeavor that moves along so briskly that it leaves no time to consider its implausibilities, which are many.
Directed by Ariel Vroman ("The Iceman") and written by Douglas Cook & David Weisberg, who scripted Michael Bay's "The Rock" back in the day, "Criminal" has a premise that's hard to wrap your head around: that the memories and feelings of one person can be implanted into another person's brain.
Some high profile acting names were intrigued enough by this Frankenstein-ish notion to sign on, including Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, the once and future Wonder Woman Gal Gadot and, in a crucial but unbilled role, Ryan Reynolds. But it's Kevin Costner, the actor playing against type in the title role, who does the most to hold our interest.
Before we get to Costner's Jerico Stewart, a hyper-violent type whose motto is "you hurt me, I hurt you worse," we meet and greet Reynolds' Bill Pope, an ace London-based CIA agent introduced doing what CIA agents do best, picking up a bag stuffed with money and a passport and coping as best he can with villains on his tail.
The bag is intended for an enigmatic computer genius (is there any other kind?) simply called "The Dutchman" (Michael Pitt), who has figured out a way to gain control of each and every weapon under the U.S. military's Central Command, something that makes the CIA's London station chief, Quaker Wells (an always apoplectic Oldman), fit to burst.
Eager to have the Dutchman and his powerful secrets all to themselves are "Criminal's" deranged evil-doers, Xavier Heimbahl (Jordi Mollà) and his equally wacked girlfriend, Elsa Mueller ("Man of Steel's" Antje Traue). They're total anarchists, dedicated to destroying all governments worldwide, no questions asked.
The reason Reynolds is unbilled is that with these two terrors on his tail, Bill Pope will not be long for this world. But does he have to take the knowledge of how to contact the Dutchman with him? Quaker Wells thinks not and gets in touch with one of the presumed legion of scientists the CIA has on its expansive payroll.
That would be Dr. Franks (Jones, oddly cast), whose specialty is memory transfer. If Bill Pope's knowledge of the Dutchman's whereabouts can be moved to someone else, perhaps the world as we know it will not have to face inevitable destruction.
Not surprisingly, Dr. Franks' candidate for the transfer, the aforementioned Jerico Stewart, is a real piece of work. The hardest of hardened criminals, in and out of prison for half his life, he's suffering from frontal lobe syndrome, meaning that neither impulse control nor empathy is within his emotional range. Ordinary human feelings are simply rumors to him, nothing more.
Costner, whose characters are usually not this morally challenged, does a surprisingly effective job as a man of two minds, someone who is completely flummoxed when impulses to do the right thing come into conflict with his habitual berserker personality.
For reasons that likely have more to do with box office than anything else, Jerico puts fierce physical beatings on any number of miscreants, but another side of him emerges from time to time.
This is most true when Bill Pope's memory takes Jerico to the CIA agent's home and the company of the man's wife, Jill (Gadot), and young daughter Emma (Lara Decaro). "They stuck Billy in my head," he grumbles to Jill, and figuring out what to do about that is the crux of "Criminal."
As its plot and dialogue make clear, this is very much standard pulp material, but director Vroman, assisted by cinematographer Dana Gonzales and editor Danny Rafic, sees to it that interest rarely flags. Costner has a hand in that as well, a victory of star power over material.
MPAA rating: R, for strong violence and language throughout.
Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes.
Playing: In general release.