Getting Ryan Reynolds into latex superhero outfits is now as much of a cottage industry as Freaky Friday-ing oneself into his psyche, as in Tarsem Singh’s Self/less, or out of it, as in Ariel Vromen’s Criminal. Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman might have goofed philosophically about the weird science that successfully implants the memories and secrets of Reynolds’s dead C.I.A. operative, Bill Pope, straight into the frontal lobe of a death-row inmate, Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner), maybe even seen it as an allegory for the ownership of the self and celebrity. Luc Besson might have pop-operatically raised it to a mythic grandeur. And Steven Soderbergh would have certainly taken pleasure, as he did when he pulled back Gwyneth Paltrow’s scalp flap in Contagion, at the sight of Reynolds’s Bill twitching in rigor mortis on a hospital gurney as his valuable brain matter is injected into the star of Field of Dreams. Vromen, though, inertly observes the procedure, treating it as the first of many robotic gesticulations toward the preordained climax between a bunch of C.I.A. operatives and a Spanish super terrorist.
Criminal’s absence of style, the lack of relish the filmmakers take in the material’s inherent ludicrousness, is a failure of conviction. Throughout, a game Costner and Gal Gadot fight a losing battle to wring pathos from the perpetually sidelined conceit of Jericho potentially finding his emotional side because of his forced surgery. For the filmmakers, Jericho’s realization that he holds the key—in his mind!—to the location of a bagful of cash and a hacker known as The Dutchman (played by Michael Pitt as a collision of multiple international accents) is just a jumping-off point for a treasure hunt throughout London that’s brutalizing for its foregrounding of inconsequential incident. Long before one of the worst CGI missiles in movie history course-corrects itself to trigger Criminal’s resolution, one may have already prayed a dozen times to be transplanted into some kind of safe space where Jericho’s off-repeated threats to his enemies, “You hurt me…I hurt you worse,” felt as if they weren’t actually being directed at the audience itself.