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'Criminal' Review: Because Your Dream is Ryan Reynolds' Mind in Kevin Costner's Body

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Film | April 15, 2016 |

By Steven Lloyd Wilson | Film | April 15, 2016 |

Last summer I reviewed Self/Less, which was Dull, Pointless, and Stupid. I bring it up because it featured Ryan Reynolds as a special forces bad ass who had his mind overwritten by Ben Kingsley the billionaire. He naturally has an adorable daughter and a hot wife, about whom Kingsley!Reynolds can remember all sorts of details. Then he fights bad guys, because, you know, movie.

The movie Criminal features Ryan Reynolds as a secret agent bad ass who dies but has his mind written into serial killer Kevin Costner’s brain. He naturally has an adorable daughter and a hot wife (Gal Gadot), about whom Reynolds!Costner can remember all sorts of details. Then he fights bad guys, because, you know, movie.

At least if that Deadpool thing doesn’t work out, Reynolds has the market cornered on badly reviewed box office bombs about mind transfer technology, so he’s got that going for him.

Between Gal Gadot and Ryan Reynolds, I have a sneaking suspicion that this film sat on a shelf somewhere for a while before some disposable executive realized during his Tuesday afternoon nostril party that between Deadpool erupting and Wonder Woman being the only good thing about Asshole vs. Douche Alien they might turn a quick buck on this.

I’m guessing they’re going to make about $11 on this movie, since it appears to not exist outside of movie reviews. In my eternal saga of seeing movies on opening night completely alone, I was not only the only person in the theater last night, but when I left at 12:30 all the lights were off and mine was the only car in the parking lot. I’m glad they forgot to lock the doors to the theater when they just all left, assuming no one could possibly be watching Criminal.

Criminal is a pretty simple set up: a hacker has the obligatory magic laptop that can control all American weapon systems, bad guys want it, Reynolds was bringing him in, bad guys respectfully disagree with his plan, secret American project is used to transfer Reynolds’ comatose mind into Kevin Costner in order to find said hacker, action movie ensues.

The truly strange thing is that it actually works pretty well. Because that description sounds abysmal, doesn’t it? But the key to appreciating the movie is to watch it not as an action movie in the least but as a straight science fiction movie. The magic laptop macguffin? Yes, it’s stupid, but it’s also completely irrelevant to the plot other than as a motivation. Despite having gunfights and secret agents, this isn’t an action film. Or rather, it’s a mediocre action film, but an above average science fiction short story. It’s about that old but fascinating stand-by of science fiction: what makes us who we are?

See, rather than focusing on Costner’s character suddenly having secret agent kung-fu skills, it focuses on the way that a sociopath who has never been able to feel emotion suddenly feels for the first time in his life. He says “thank you” and doesn’t know why, he shows mercy and doesn’t know why, he feels affection for a woman he’s never met before, he’s kind to a child when he’s never been gentle in his life. And he feels abject horror that he might not be able to feel again.

The real dramatic action here is all on Kevin Costner’s shoulders. And really, did anyone ever expect to hear that a movie lives and dies on Kevin Costner’s actressin’? This one does, and it’s subtle and well done, and I think entirely wasted on most of the people seeing the movie since it’s sitting at somewhere south of shit percent on Rotten Tomatoes by critics who apparently saw an entirely different movie than I did. There’s a wonderful arc to the character in which you realize that rather than simply being a dichotomy of evil Costner before the mind transfer, and good Costner after, there’s a trajectory from scene to scene as he feels more and more.

Criminal is not a movie for the ages, but it is a far better one than it appears at face value. Don’t watch it for the action, watch it for the science fiction in the gaps.

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Steven Lloyd Wilson is the sci-fi and history editor. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter.