‘Criminal’
Director:
Ariel Vromen
Stars: Kevin Costner, Gal Gadot
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

How do you screw up a movie in which Ryan Reynolds’ brain is transferred into Kevin Costner — by Tommy Lee Jones? Constructed like a roided-up and self-serious “Bourne” knockoff, “Criminal” is actually as barking mad as its title is generic. Worse, only its aging, has-been star seems to know it. Costner plays a man seriously named Jericho — a loose cannon psycho and lifetime prisoner who we’re promised has a “total lack of empathy for anyone or anything.” 

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Surely that's why government officials forcibly task gift him with the memories of a dead CIA agent — played by an unbilled Reynolds, who presumably signed up just so baddies can shove a cattle prod inside his mouth — and demand he give them intel buried in his brain that will thwart a global terrorist attack (by Spanish anarchists!). Surprise! Jericho refuses to help and then escapes. Freed, he goes about his business: punching strangers in patisseries, stealing from doner shops and, less fun, nearly defiling Reynolds’ widow (Gal Gadot). Then, like magic, he finds his sociopathic tendencies softening, his new and better half slowly introducing him to what it’s like to be nice to kids and not want to beat people into gory pulps.

The “Costnerssance” has not been going well, with wasted opportunities (“3 Days to Kill”) and choices bland (“McFarland, USA”) and misjudged (“Black or White”). Costner’s been committed, though. Snarling through what sounds like a nicotine-stained impersonation of Harvey Fierstein, the onetime Biggest Actor in the World in no way dulls Jericho’s rough edges. Even when he’s turning nice, he keeps him dangerous and magnetically unlikable — a monster who’s scary even when he’s ostensibly trying to save kids held at gunpoint.

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Costner’s the whole show. Gadot, as usual, is more machine than woman. Fellow aging “JFK” bros Gary Oldman (as a harried CIA honcho) and Tommy Lee Jones (as a grave mad scientist) look lost and confused. Oldman is clearly pissed about having to bark stock lines like, “He’s been off the grid for 20 minutes!” Eventually, he just starts swearing. But Jones, for once in his life, doesn’t treat obvious dreck with grouchy contempt. He looks sad and betrayed, as though someone truly convinced him this was going to be only slightly better than “Man of the House.” 

Director Ariel Vromen (“The Iceman”) fumbles through a modest-budget monstrosity, filled with low-res archival footage and sloppy set pieces filled with chaotic action. It only comes alive when Costner is flipping the bird to trucks he’s just rear-ended or aggressively bopping his head along to techno. Whatever weirdo movie he thinks he's in is far more interesting than what’s usually onscreen, or whatever else is clogging multiplexes.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge