With Criminal, director Ariel Vromen serves an unintended re-hash of Total Recall (2012). The story begins with CIA operative Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds), who, after a heart-racing chase through the streets of London, is murdered. For his bureau chief Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman), there’s a problem beyond the loss of the agent: the memories of Pope’s last moments were crucial to the success of his very sensitive mission.
Wells thus decides to put in place a highly unethical medical procedure: forcibly transfer the dead agent’s memories into the brain of hardened criminal Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner).
Criminal starts off well. The first ten minutes of running time featuring Reynolds are gripping. And it’s great fun to see London as the backdrop for spy action.
However, things start going south as soon as the memory-transfer premise comes in. It’s unclear, for instance, why the mission is important enough to require the surgery, or why the information can’t be uncovered in an easier way. And worryingly, the London CIA bureau seems to be staffed by only three agents, who stand around in suits with their arms crossed.
The film goes from bad to worse when Jericho wakes up. The CIA, and Goldman’s character in particular, are utterly unrealistic in their incompetence. Costner is suitably terrifying as Jericho. Yet, his character goes on an preposterous emotional journey, where while he doesn’t stop being awful and murderous, he develops an affection for Pope’s wife Jill (Gal Gadot) and daughter Emma (Lara Decaro). It’s creepy, and a badly executed attempt at using the tough-criminal-goes-soft story. As a result, there is no character to sympathise with - a sure recipe to a dull film. Hearing so much about Bill Pope, it’s only a short step to wishing that he, not his memory, was the star of the story.
Throw into all this a healthy amount of unnecessary set pieces (car crashes, turning swing-span bridges, more car crashes, a helicopter), and lines so stereotyped that they provoke unintentional laughs, and you’ve got Criminal. With such a great cast line-up, and not a terrible concept, it’s a pity that it doesn’t deliver.