This film was mostly dismissed by critics (and audiences) just like the last film that dealt with transferring consciousness between brains that had Ryan Reynolds in it – Tarsem Singh’s Self/less.
But if you’re a science geek there’s actually a lot more to enjoy here. Singh wasn’t the least bit interested in the method of transferring Ryan Reynolds’ consciousness to Ben Kingsley’s brain, that much was obvious by the depiction of the process (the pair of them lying on hospital gurneys, connected by wires to a machine with flashing lights).
In Criminal, the writers have at least tried to come up with something that makes sense even if it is science fiction. The host subject is sociopathic lifelong criminal Jericho (Costner) – a scientist explains at one point that part of his cerebral cortex is severely underdeveloped thanks to his childhood circumstances, causing a complete lack of empathy and social graces (bordering on autistic) and the violent tendencies that have led to a life of incarceration.
The doctor investigating the transference of mind states, Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) is approached by the head of the CIA’s London operations, Wells (Gary Oldman) to take his research live thanks to a threat to international security.
The process involves taking a detailed scan of the neural map of the donor and implanting it upon the neurology of the host, and it happens in a sequence that looks as authentic as the science sounds. The movie doesn’t leave it there, either, Jerico suffering headaches for the rest of the film as a result of the process. To repeat – it’s science fiction, but you can kind of imagine the physical pain of neurology being assaulted and shocked by vast amounts of crudely delivered new input that conflicts with what’s already there.
Jerico’s in such a position because an agent, Bill Pope (Reynolds) is the only one who knows the location of a hacker called The Dutchman who holds a key to the world’s military networks and threatens to cause chaos on a global scale unless his demands are met.
When Pope realises in the opening scene he’s being followed on the way to meet The Dutchman, a chase across London ensues that sees him captured and killed. When the powers that be retrieve his body, they realise the knowledge that will lead them to The Dutchman is still in his mental circuits, and that the groundbreaking work of Dr Franks might reveal it.
They spring Jerico from the prison cell where he’d probably have spent the rest of his life and force him into being the host so he can search memories that aren’t his to find The Dutchman, but of course it all goes wrong. As dangerous as he is unhinged, Jerico gets away and goes on the lam in London.
With no idea how to find the guy he knows they’re looking for and crippled by the headaches that it turns out will eventually kill him without special medication, he finds himself drawn to Pope’s widow (Gal Gadot) and daughter, the memories in his head about them overpowering.
One of the (fairly hokey) themes is that love for a wife and child that aren’t his will teach Jerico about empathy and humanity, but all the while that’s going on the chase to bring him in before The Dutchman destroys the world explodes across London, with Oldman chewing as much scenery as he ever has as the terminally shouty Wells.
The plot is a bit muddy and there’s a lot that doesn’t make sense or just wasn’t slung on the story very well. The character of the doctor behind the research is fairly redundant, and it’s hard to figure out who the antagonists chasing the information in Jerico’s head were beyond the scary European villain archetype.
The opening scene is also such a blur of action you miss any exposition about The Dutchman and what he’s threatening to do – it isn’t until about halfway through the arc even starts to make sense.
Everything else is a fair but adequate chase thriller, but there are enough quirks to raise it above the blandness many critics found. Costner’s role, for one, is quite well rendered by him with his grunting, growling, brute-force approach to what’s going on around him.