Criminal: An ugly mess

Ryan Reynolds as CIA operative Bill Pope. Photo: YouTube
Ryan Reynolds as CIA operative Bill Pope. Photo: YouTube
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The title of Ariel Vromen's lumbering London-set thriller refers not only to Kevin Costner's unhinged anti-hero, who has spent most of his life behind bars, but also to the film's shocking waste of Oscar-calibre talent.

Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Oldman are squandered in thankless supporting roles, slaves to a preposterous script penned by Douglas Cook and David Weisberg that displays an unhealthy aversion to plausibility.

None of the two-dimensional characters address why the CIA seriously considers a sociopath to be the perfect test subject for revolutionary memory-swap surgery.

Nor is there a hint of a motive for a cyber terrorist who sets the ramshackle plot in motion by hacking the US military and threatening to take charge of its missile launching capabilities.

Instead, we are repeatedly bludgeoned with scenes of graphic violence: heads and limbs slammed in vehicle doors, an innocent passerby set alight, and a customer at a coffee shop assaulted for speaking out of turn over his latte.

"Who punches somebody in a patisserie?" whimpers the victim.

Kevin Costner stars as Jericho Stewart. Photo: YouTube

Kevin Costner stars as Jericho Stewart. Photo: YouTube

The film opens shortly after CIA operative Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) has delivered notorious hacker Jan Stroop (Michael Pitt) aka The Dutchman to a London safe house.

The agent collects a black bag of money - a ransom to dissuade Stroop from selling his flash drive of US defence codes to the highest bidder.

Before Pope can make the exchange, sadistic terrorist Hagbardaka Heimbahl (Jordi Molla) captures the American.

The CIA man refuses to relinquish Stroop's location and by the time CIA London bureau chief Quaker Wells (Oldman) arrives, Pope has been tortured to the brink of death.

If Heimbahl locates Stroop, the repercussions would be cataclysmic, so the CIA enlists maverick neurosurgeon Dr Franks (Lee Jones) to transplant Pope's memories into the head of Jericho Stewart (Costner), who suffers from frontal lobe syndrome.

Unfortunately, Jericho is a vicious death row inmate, with no moral compass, empathy or emotions.

"You hurt me, I hurt you worse," the prisoner growls.

Jericho refuses to do the CIA's bidding and escapes custody.

Fractured images of Pope's former life lead the jailbird to the dead agent's widow Jill (Gal Gadot) and daughter Emma (Lara Decaro), with Wells and fellow CIA agents Esteban Ruiz (Amaury Nolasco) and Marta Lynch (Alice Eve) in hot pursuit.

Criminal offers no compelling reason to care about Costner's brute as he embarks on a killing spree.

Only Lee Jones' medic seems concerned by the barbarity, advising Oldman's hotheaded boss against brutalising Jericho.

"Your men have got to stop hitting him, especially in the head," deadpans the neurosurgeon.

Gadot, currently flexing her muscles as Wonder Woman in Batman V Superman, is treated as a bauble, to be held captive or tied invitingly to a bed.

Vromen's mindless, relentless film is an ugly mess.