Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) has a secret, he has stashed a large amount of money somewhere and some criminals want it back. He was also involved with international cyber-terrorism, and has access to the codes that can make or break an attempt to sneak into missile bases and submarines and set off the weapons there, including the nuclear ones. But he is being followed not only by the terrorists, he is followed by the C.I.A. as well, and they are tracking him through London streets as he grows increasingly paranoid, dodging potential assassins on a double decker bus until he can make it to a taxi cab, where he gives the driver co-ordinates on a phone to reach an cement factory - but this is no cement factory!
That's right, Pope managed to get into the cab of the only London taxi driver who did not have The Knowledge and basically had no idea about the layout of the British capital's streets. If you found that implausible, wait till you get to the rest of it which saw Criminal take the form of one of those action flicks that adopted a science fiction premise then proceeded to turn it into a not very science fictional thriller. Face/Off was probably the king of such devices, but this was no Face/Off, meeting not with blockbuster success but middling to poor box office returns and a general reaction that went from somewhere near bored acceptance to outright, derisive laughter at what they were trying to pass off.
If the latter response made Criminal sound like fun, most likely watching it would disabuse you of that impression, as aside from a few unintended chuckles it was a bit of a slog. Piled high with self-importance it assembled a very impressive cast and pretty much embarrassed them; putting Kevin Costner and Tommy Lee Jones in the same movie in the nineteen-nineties might have made for a promising prospect (how you felt about Oliver Stone's JFK not necessarily withstanding) but come 2016 they had become guns for hire in lesser action efforts such as this, looking every day of their advancing years. Couple that with the fact that Jones was playing the character Gary Oldman should have had and vice versa, and there was trouble.
Also in that cast was Gal Gadot, who as the current Wonder Woman was adding star power to a film that wasn't lacking it; she played Mrs Pope, and had more screen time than Reynolds who aside from a couple of flashbacks or trick shots did not appear after the first ten minutes, thanks to Pope being dead. You wondered if they both had made this movie before their respective superhero roles had raised their profile and profitability that same year, because as a woman in an action plot, Gadot was there to be kidnapped, as was the moppet playing her daughter, that was about the level of Criminal. But what was top-billed Costner up to? Was this a game try at a comeback of sorts for the once shining star? Or was it more accurately the lengths he had to go to in order to headline a project now?
After all, it would come as no surprise to learn that this was based on a script rejected by Nicolas Cage, and considering what he did accept you should have some idea of what was on offer. Costner played the very nineties-sounding badass Jericho Stewart, a crazed and violent lawbreaker who never met anyone he didn't want to assault in some way, which is thanks to a brain injury that he suffered some years ago. Therefore, and here's the science fiction part, he is the prime candidate for scientist Jones' memory implant as bellowing C.I.A. chief Oldman demands Pope's valuable mind be placed in Jericho's brain, all the better for him to tell them about the conspiracy, a scheme led by the absurdly high profile baddie Jordi Mollà (he's called Xavier Heimdahl for some odd reason, mind you Oldman was the equally bizarre Quaker Wells). With the British element illustrated by Jericho stealing a van from three hardmen who point out such behaviour is "bang out of order" or Jericho reminiscing with Mrs Pope that her first car as a couple was a Rover that smelled of fish and chips, it was really the Americans who dominated, transplanting big, dumb action clichés to dear old Blighty and managing to insult the intelligence of either side of the Atlantic. Music by Brian Tyler.
I keep running into millennials who slam Face/Off as one of the worst movies ever made. But films like Criminal and Self/Less (what's going on there, Ryan Reynolds?) prove this is a hard concept to pull off.
21 Sep 2016
I'm not the world's biggest fan of Face/Off either, but it looks like a masterpiece compared to thudding stuff like this.