Starring - Kathryn Morris, Johnny Lee Miller, L.L. Cool J., Christian Slater, Val Kilmer
When this movie plunked into my hand in 2005, I instantly thought to myself “Holy shit. Some FBI profilers fight a killer who has them trapped on an island and is dispatching them one-at-a-time! I love one-at-a-time kills! And starring people that I know!? Why didn’t this make a bigger splash when it was presumably released 5 years ago?” Then it dawned on me – the movie itself wasn’t old, just the careers were. So I watched it, and we all got older together.
Let’s come right out the gate here and immediately point out the awesomest thing this film has to offer – the imagination catalyst that is “Crimetown, USA.” Every time I watch this flick (and this would be my 4th – thanks, undiagnosed OCD) I come out of it wishing I was born in Crimetown. The sweet smell of dishevelment and a population completely comprised of mannequins is just the right setting to spark all sorts of imaginary hijinks. Got a new baseball bat and don’t like the way your “neighbour” has been motionlessly watching you? No problem in Crimetown. Never got the chance to see how far you could kick a neighbourhood dog? Find out in Crimetown. In fact, Crimetown is such a great setting, that it is both underused and hard to live up to. All those plastic people and human body shadows warranted more than just an intro and one shoot-out – problem is, the characters spend so much time hiding and cavorting indoors, that all I can picture is a handful of pissed off Set Decorators. Ah, well – until I can afford my own Crimetown there’s always a Sears I can be kicked out of.
With that fantastic revelry out of the way, I’d say that I can sum up the rest of this movie in the same one word that can sum up Renny Harlin’s career – adequate. Acting – adequate. Camera work – adequate. Lighting – adequate. Location - …we already covered that. I’d wager that anybody who watches action flicks has seen a Renny Harlin movie. I’d even keep my two bits in the bettor’s circle that anyone who has seen 3 or more “Harlins” even liked at least one of them. So, where did he go wrong? Why did he go wrong? I’ll take my fandom from A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 all the way up through The Long Kiss Goodnight to land at Deep Blue Sea; that’s about where things petered out for him. Or me. But if you look at his career from that point on, from Driven to 12 Rounds, “adequate” is about the perfect, if not somewhat forgiving, summation of his canon. Somewhere between Cliffhanger and Cleaner, he lost his pizzazz; he lost his dynamism. Maybe marrying Geena Davis was the peak of his career and he gave up trying to top himself. It’s also #16 on my bucket list. Marrying Harlin is number #14... There are some fine shots here that utilize the corridors and angles of spaces, but it’s just not enough. Take, for example, the scene where the agents first arrive and explore the island – there are plenty of pans and zooms and slightly low angles, imbuing the space with a feeling of appropriate foreboding. But that’s one of the early lessons in filmmaking – and, when executed here, it comes across as textbook. Which poses the age old question - is it more conducive for story immersion to notice the cinematography or to not notice it? When the eye picks out a fancy camera angle, does that actually pull the viewer out of the film? My answer is a firm "Maybe…" Would some “dirty” foreground close-ups or off-angle shots serve to move the “evil” closer to the characters, or would they just take away from the supposedly sterile setting that is being established? Currently, the looming angles convey a vast, empty, cold environment that the characters are walking into – but, the environment is also a character here, and should be treated as such. Whether the responsibility falls on the director, the director of photography, or someone else is a question you’d have to ask the DVD bonus features. And, at the risk of placing blame squarely on the incorrect shoulders, who on Earth has the balls to directly follow up an “investigative montage” with another “investigative montage”? These guys, that’s who. I wonder if that was what the script called for, or if an executive decision was made in the editing room. Overall, it’s a fairly cheap ploy to make FBI investigations look gripping.
Could the casting director not manage to squeeze any more washed-up actors into this vehicle? With Slater and Kilmer and Miller sadly waving goodbye to their careers in the rear-view, was Cuba Gooding Jr. too busy to ride shotgun that week? Or do his parts automatically go to L.L. Cool J. first? Is there some bald, black actor (I call them “blacktors”) hierarchy in lower Hollywood that the plebs are not aware of? At least the producers stuck by L.L.’s (apparent) rider detailing that his character must survive every, and any, movie that he is in. Do an IMDB tally – I didn’t. Of course, when you get the opportunity to utter gems like “I guess we found out his weakness – bullets,” you don’t want to turn down certain door knockings. That line is so lame, it circled back around to being cool. The question here is, is the acting really that bad? No. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it’s adeq… uhhh, fine. Johnny Lee Miller’s accent seems to be a bit spotty, (do I detect a note of Texan in there…?)and the characters aren’t given much substance with which to work, but nobody is really dragging down the story – in fact, Christian Slater’s ass is pulling more than its own weight. That said, these profilers are so one note that it’s a cakewalk for their killer to, irony notwithstanding, profile them.
That statement speaks volumes. It’s that single-layered simplicity that puts this in a little subgenre I call “Common Man Thrillers”. Characterization is pointed at by the most didactic of fingers, making each “ironic” demise as elementary to conceive as paying attention to the character traits that have been mentioned more than once. Oh, the girl who wants a cigarette is done in by a poisoned cigarette and the guy who goes nowhere without his gun gets offed by, big gasp, his gun. Even in 2000, we still would have been light years beyond these tropes. And how about that grand reveal – nothing too “grand” or too “revealing” there. Just count the interactive screen time. Sara, who is the real star here, gets a bit of development in the opening scene, then has 3 lone dialogues with Miller’s “Lucas” – the rest of her time is group based. In a thriller, it’s a good idea to develop the main character and the killer, and that’s just what those “one-on-one” scenes do. Surprise averted.
And because I’m me, I wouldn’t feel proper talking about a movie with kills without talking about kills. Hot off the “trapping-death” boom that was put in motion by Saw, (well… some of us remember Evil Dead Trap…)about half of the kills in Mindhunters looked nice and gory and played straight into the camera – no cutaways or ambiguous guts shots. The liquid nitrogen, the puppet corpse, the acidic cigarette – Mindhunters showcases some decent carnage usually reserved for straight-up horror. At times the movie does, however, ignore one of the basic tenets of gore-flicks; namely, that the slaughter has to get progressively more and more brutal as the film goes on. It doesn’t quite blow its entire load on Slater’s kill, but it does make a sizeable mess. Kills that backtrack only serve to squash viewer hopes and frustrate me. Some of the half-assed imagination that went into all the other aspects of this movie should have also been parcelled out to the writing, notably the time-filling elements such as that bloated “Croatoan” nonsense, or used to pave the way for the introduction of more one-note characters ripe for the offing. I’m going to get Cuba Gooding Jr. some work one of these days…
The finale culminates in a head to head battle of fisticuffs between L.L. and Miller, and I longed for some of the longer takes utilized in the kill scenes; I would have assumed that by now it is just naturally accepted that the fewer the cuts, the better the fight – it’s nice to see some actors who can sustain more than 3 seconds of combat. To be fair, it must be tough for L.L. to swing around that physique for prolonged periods of time…
After that final “reveal” (snicker…), comes the film’s most memorable moment of ridiculousness – the stand-off in the pool. I understand the obligatory need for a hero to overcome their fears, but would that scenario be that difficult to get out of? Why would anyone raise their whole head out of the water? Won’t just the lips suffice? With that conquering, everything is again right with the world – Sara and Jensen board a helicopter to head on home. Heart-warming. Pay no attention to the fact that the chopper doesn’t seem to drop off any officers to investigate the recent hunting of minds. Nor are there any more inbound helicopters. I guess what happens on the Island of Oneiga stays on the Island of Oneiga.