The archetypal cinematic antihero makes for such a beguiling, absorbing protagonist – illuminating the screen in many a production, ranging from the likes of Pacino’s Tony Montana, to De Niro’s Travis Bickle. What makes them work is the ability to earn the viewer’s respect, to ensure that, in spite of their reprehensible demeanours, the audience are rooting for their well-being. Without this paramount quality the entire endeavour can fall apart – which is exactly the case for Ariel Vromen’s Criminal.
The aforementioned character is the volatile, intimidating prisoner Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner) who is offered a second chance at life, as the guinea pig in an advanced experiment undertaken by the CIA – to implant the memories and skill-set of a former, deceased agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) into this man, and have him pick up where the latter left off, and aim to take down the nefarious criminal Hagbardaka Heimbahl (Jordi Molla). With agent Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman) championing the endeavour, it causes much distress for Jericho, as his own memories are amalgamated with that of Pope’s, which leads him back to the latter’s widow, Jill (Gal Gadot).
Part of why Jericho is such a difficult character to emotionally invest in, is because even when he does show the occasional, redeeming quality, you know that it’s one that belonged to Pope. Costner struggles to bring the character to life too, as just one of many truly accomplished performers let down by the mediocre, hackneyed screenplay, and two dimensional characters that inhabit this world. You can hire the best actors in the world – something this film isn’t too far off doing (even Tommy Lee Jones stars) – and yet with a horribly cliched, complex screenplay, following an incoherent, convoluted narrative, it counts for absolutely nothing.
What also doesn’t help Vromen – who showed promise with his preceding picture The Iceman – is that the antagonist isn’t nearly threatening enough either; never appearing as a formidable enough opponent for Jericho and seeming so easy to overcome. Ideally you need both the protagonist and the antagonist to work to craft a triumphant, compelling production, or at the very least you need one to be a success. But without either, like with Criminal, you’re left with a film that simply doesn’t work.