Take this review’s one-and-a-half-star grade as a backhanded endorsement: Mr. Brooks is one deliriously ridiculous movie, and a bona fide contender for status as a camp classic. Director Bruce A. Evans’s thriller proceeds with an apparent determination to be as absurd as possible, beginning with its pre-credit text: “The hunger has returned to Mr. Brooks’s brain. It never really left.” The hunger in question plaguing Portland Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year and boxing company CEO Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner) is a homicidal one, the debonair gent wracked by a killing “addiction” that he attempts to quell at Addicts Anonymous meetings, but which is regularly set off by subconscious devil-on-his-shoulder Marshall (William Hurt). Following his typical, über-methodical modus operandi (plastic bag over the gun to catch falling shells, vacuuming away all evidence), Earl is convinced by Marshall to execute a young couple, a dirty deed that concludes with Costner spinning around, arms outstretched, in orgasmic ecstasy, and will later be atoned for via prayers begging heavenly mercy for his impure impulses.
Thanks to a bit of uncharacteristic sloppiness, Earl’s latest transgression attracts the attention of a millionaire cop (Demi Moore, in sexy tough-chick mode), as well as a doofus across the street from the crime scene known as Mr. Smith (Dane Cook), who uses photos of a caught-in-the-act Earl to blackmail the serial killer into letting him tag along on his next assassination. Mr. Smith’s desire to enjoy the “rush” of murder is sheer silliness, though no more so than two totally random subplots involving Moore’s cop—the first about her contentious divorce proceedings, the second about an escaped convict known as “The Hangman” who wants her dead—or Earl’s revelation that daughter Jane (Danielle Panabaker) has inherited his bloodthirsty DNA. Throughout, director Evans favors sleek surfaces and stark shadows, except when he decides to go helter-skelter spasmodic during a strobe light-wracked hallway shootout. Still, his preference for overblown visual contrasts is at least mirrored in the central relationship between Earl and Marshall, with Costner’s serviceably cold, robotic routine complemented by Hurt’s charmingly evil, persuasive Id.
While Marg Helgenberger sleeps upstairs, her CSI intuition nowhere to be found, a completely nude Costner kneels in front of photos of his victims—all posed in arranged compositions à la Red Dragon, a primary influence on this crazy narrative—before burning them in a high-tech furnace. It’s a seemingly unsurpassable goofy sight, but one that’s outdone in the third act when Mr. Smith, poised to get his rocks off with some firearm mayhem, proves pitifully unable to control his bladder. Mr. Brooks is bad in countless fundamental ways—it’s not thrilling, not incisive, not altogether coherent, and not particularly well shot—and yet there’s nonetheless something cheesy-delicious about its lack of inhibition, the film piling on excessive, illogical, and often unintentionally amusing storylines like an overweight kid let loose at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Plus, it nails my feelings about the unfunny, unbearable Cook, via Marshall’s scathing assessment of Mr. Smith: “Even if that guy was charming and funny, I still wouldn’t like him.”