I’m really not sure what is meant to be gained by making and filming a film like Criminal. On the one hand, it conjures up a moderately interesting (if utterly ridiculous) premise that could be used to reinvigorate the gleefully over-the-top goofy thrills of John Woo’s Face/Off; on the other, it insists on taking itself down a stroppily serious path. There you have an incongruence, and with that mapped out from the first half hour, other sloppy and lazy pieces just act as sour icing to a very burnt and bland cake.
The consistently grunting Kevin Costner stars as Jericho Stewart, a murderous convict totally disassociated from his actions. He has memories of a dead man implanted in him by unconventional neurosurgeon Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones). Ideally, the process should lead the CIA and a flustered Gary Oldman to a hacker and a barrel of money stashed somewhere in London. On the way with his implanted memories, Jericho runs into the deceased man’s wife (Gal Gadot), and some stuff happens involving them, though it’s highly forgettable, as you may already tell.
That cast list sounds so brilliant on paper that it’s hard to turn a little critical attention to this film and its mildly interesting premise, but from the word go, Criminal plods along with remarkable, dull dreariness. There are no laughs to be had, no thrilling twists in the plot, a weak cardboard villain, and a general air of the perfunctory. The film opens with a lacklustre chase sequence through London culminating in a gratuitous torture scene, but even then the heavy eyelids start to weigh down.
The characterisation of such a high-calibre cast list could not be more flat. Costner is passable enough as a grizzled tough guy who undergoes reconciliation, despite constant pre-vocal grunting. Gary Oldman and Tommy Lee Jones have bare-boned, by-the-numbers, stand-in roles devoid of individual flair. Interchangeable with any actor of any prowess, these two veterans do what their roles tell them to do and await their pay cheque.
The one glimmering beacon in Criminal is Gal Gadot, who does provide scenes of tender emotional strife. While she isn’t given a great deal to do, what she produces from her limited script options actually allows her part of the film to capitalise on its extreme self-seriousness. There’s power behind Gadot’s acting that is waiting to be unleashed further – it’s nice to see her being given more roles after her stint in Fast and Furious, and there’s good promise for her solo outing as Wonder Woman next year (thankfully far away from Zack Snyder’s hands).
The rest of the film trudges along with one unmemorable scene after another, grim, boring violence a by-the-numbers espionage plot, and a poorly handled narrative that ditches any idea of innovation or blockbuster fun for trodden emptiness.
As a filler for a boring, empty Sunday afternoon or for some undemanding viewing whilst hungover, Criminal may just about pass for genre enthusiasts, but there is little else to recommend within its murky, plodding tropes.