Renny Harlin’s would-be thriller about a killer picking off the members of an FBI team isolated on an island off the Virginia coast is supposed to have been inspired by Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians,” but surely the comparison would have caused the renowned British author much pain. “Mindhunters” is a ghastly movie–a tedious, pedestrian gorefest with neither the slightest degree of inventiveness or wit, nor the remotest sliver of sense. The title refers to the fact that the unlucky victims are all in training to become profilers, agents who can get into the brains of their prey; but it actually points to the fact that a viewer would have to search long and hard to find any evidence of intelligence in it–and then would come up empty, because “Mindhunters” is really mindless.
The set-up has oddball FBI trainer Jake Harris (Val Kilmer) depositing his trainees–J.D. (Christian Slater), Sara (Kathryn Morris), Lucas (Johnny Lee Miller), Nicole (Patricia Velasquez), Vince (Clifton Collins, Jr.), Bobby (Eion Bailey) and Rafe (Will Kemp)–on the island where the CIA has constructed an elaborate faux town, telling them their assignment is to track down a serial killer called The Puppeteer who will soon make his presence apparent. At the last minute he adds an outsider to the group: a Philadelphia cop (LL Cool J, who like other rappers indicates his desire to be taken seriously as an actor by also using his real name, James Todd Smith), who’s there to observe. But things soon turn deadly when J.D., the group leader, is gruesomely killed on the first day’s search. This sets off a chain of deaths that pits the decreasing number of survivors against one another, uncertain whether the killer is Harris or one of them.
There’s not a shred of cleverness in any of this, from the first death (which involves an apparatus so complicated, with literally hundred of dominos, that would have taken a small army days to arrange, though we’re supposed to believe that one person fashioned it by slipping away for a few minutes), through the disentangling of the modus operandi (involving clocks fixed to foretell the killing schedule and a penchant for giving each victim a demise specially designed for his peculiar characteristics) to the big revelatory finale (which has absolutely none of Christie’s twisty elan, instead consisting of the sort of endless explanation by the villain one might expect in a really bad television show). Harlin tries to pump things up with his usual rush-of-adrenaline choreography (although one sequence, in which bullets progress languidly underwater, provides a change of pace) and a generous helping of gore, but the picture refuses to catch fire; and the cast seems stranded professionally as well as narratively, with Slater no happier here than he was in “Alone in the Dark,” Morris basically replaying her “Cold Case” shtick, Cool J failing to exhibit any charisma and Miller offering a smugly superior attitude. In what amounts to a cameo, Kilmer continues along his current path of eccentricity, no more successfully than in “Alexander.” No one on the technical side fares appreciably better; this looks to have been a B production down the line, from Robert Gantz’s murky cinematography to Tuomas Kantelinen’s overwrought score.
If you want to see a tale along these lines played out in the classic fashion, try Rene Clair’s “And Then There Were None” (1945), the definitive screen version of the Christie novel (and a superb movie by any standard). In terms of quality “Mindhunters” has about the same relationship to it that Harlin’s recent “Exorcist” prequel had to William Friedkin’s original. And you know how horrible that was.