CRIMINAL

Last year, in “Self/less,” Ryan Reynolds played a strapping young fellow whose body became host to the consciousness of a dying old man. The arrangement did not work out well. Now in “Criminal,” he’s a guy who’s killed, only to have his consciousness transferred to the brain of another fellow. The result, at least for the audience, is even worse this time around.

In the astronomically silly script, which one can even imagine Luc Besson turning down as ludicrous, Reynolds is Bill Pope, a CIA agent who, over the first fifteen minutes of screen time, we see stalked via ubiquitous cameras and his trusty, all-powerful laptop by a steely-eyed terrorist named Xavier Heimdahl (Jordi Molla), who wants to blow up this corrupt world, and his chief lieutenant Elsa (Antje Traue). Pope’s ever-more-frustrated boss Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman) desperately tries to save his man, but to no avail.

That’s a serious problem, since only Pope had access to a computer genius, code-named The Dutchman (Michael Pitt, who once seemed to have leading man potential, which has long since vanished). The Dutchman, who once worked for Heimdahl but came to think the guy crazy (one can understand his point), has somehow acquired control over all US nuclear weapons, and his erstwhile boss wants that information. To prevent him from getting it, Pope hid The Dutchman away and promised the guy cash for the flash drive—loot he was in process of delivering before things went south for him. Fortunately he was able to hide the cash before Elsa caught up with him.

But where are The Dutchman and that cache of money? That’s what Wells needs to find out, and since Pope is now dead, he calls in Dr. Franks (Tommy Lee Jones, looking exhausted and unwell), a scientist who’s been working on a process to transfer one brain’s memories to another. Unfortunately, the host brain needs particular characteristics that few people possess, and the best candidate is an antisocial, brutal prison inmate named Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner), who suffered head trauma as a child. He’s enlisted in the experiment without his consent, and then, when it seems to fail, is sent back to jail, only to escape along the way.

As it turns out, however, the experiment did work, though slowly—Pope’s memories come to Jericho in fits and starts. He does remember enough, though, to take him to the home of Pope’s widow Jill (Gal Gadot) and his darling little daughter Emma (Lara Decaro). Contact with them is strained at first—Jericho’s a nasty sort, after all, with no compulsion about hurting people. After a time, however, Pope’s personality begins to affect its host, and Jericho, until now incapable of empathy, begins to feel emotions, and not just anger but sympathy and concern—even love, perhaps.

Of course, that nice quasi-domestic stuff can’t be allowed to interfere with the mayhem, and so Jericho is soon off in pursuit of that money and The Dutchman even as he’s pursued by both Wells and his team, and Heimdahl and his. Lots of fights, car crashes and gun battles follow, and inevitably Jill and Emma will become helpless pawns in the crossfire. But rest assured the world is not destroyed, though given the unlikely plot turns your capacity to suspend disbelief might very well be.

This is the second time lately that Costner has tried to go the tough-guy route, and though he works very diligently at it, the result is even less credible that it was in “3 Days to Kill” (Jericho’s first appearance in his prison cell is a doozy). Ryan, moreover, is curiously anonymous and Gadot completely wasted, while Jones looks like he’s carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Molla comes off more than a little absurd as a guy who can supposedly do anything with a mere touch of a keyboard, and Traue is even worse as a villainess who seems to have escaped from a Sean Connery-era James Bond movie. The worst of the lot, however, is Oldman, an actor who can be subtly brilliant in some roles and laughably terrible in others. Here, sporting a Bronx accent so thick you could cut it with a knife, he’s comically awful; it’s one of the worst performances he’s even given. Technically the picture is proficient enough, but director Ariel Vromen doesn’t generate the level of excitement he and his crew are clearing trying for, and cinematographer Dana Gonzales’ widescreen images sometimes look cloudy, with hand-held moments especially trying. The cautious editing by Danny Rafic and bland background score by Brian Tyler and Keith Power are no help.

As it reaches its absurd final confrontation the movie grows so foolish that in the future it might be used as a cinematic touchstone, as in: “It’s so bad, it’s ‘Criminal.’” Still, one can appreciate it for its unintentional hilarity.