A Cinematic Crime

Poor writing dooms 'Mr. Brooks' despite good work by Kevin Costner

There seems to be some sort of rumor going around that Kevin Costner can't act. It's a false and mean rumor, probably started by Whitney Houston after Costner slipped her an unauthorized tongue in The Bodyguard.

While Costner can be a little drab from time to time (Remember Dragonfly? Probably not.), he's certainly capable of some dynamic work on screen. He provides a little of that in his latest. Mr. Brooks is a sloppy, ridiculous film, but it's almost made tolerable by Costner. His work here is intriguing, even as the film slowly but surely spins out of control.

With Mr. Brooks, Costner goes the dark serial-killer route. He's played nasty before, most notably in 3000 Miles to Graceland and A Perfect World. He plays Mr. Earl Brooks, a businessman with a box company, and he's just won a Man of the Year award. He's also nuttier than almond pesto, constantly talking to an imaginary friend (William Hurt) whenever he gets the urge to kill somebody. He's a serial killer who hasn't murdered anybody for a couple of years, but he's coming out of retirement.

On the evening that he's received his award, he goes on a little murder call with fake buddy Hurt in tow. He kills a pair of lovers, but forgets to close the blinds. As the TV commercial for the film has already told you, a nosy neighbor who likes to photograph the couple for naughty purposes (Dane Cook) catches Mr. Brooks in the act and chooses to blackmail him. He doesn't want money. He wants to ride along on the next killing to "feel the rush." Yeah ... whatever.

Investigating the newly revived shenanigans of the Thumbprint Killer (Mr. Brooks' cute nickname) is Det. Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore), who chews gum because she is tough. I am so tired of this chewing-gum-to-show-you're-a-badass cliché in films. If you want to show me you're tough, smoke a pack and punch a duck or something. A stick of Wrigley's isn't going to do it!

Turns out Atwood is a super-rich woman who chooses to be a police detective because of daddy issues. Her ongoing divorce is one of many subplots the film doesn't need but chooses to throw in because director-co-writer Bruce A. Evans doesn't know where to stop. Another one involving Brooks' daughter (Danielle Panabaker) having possible murderous tendencies is a complete waste of time.

Costner, because he's just so gosh darned likable, is awfully creepy when he plays bad guys. Getting to play a two-face like Brooks is an obvious good time for him, and he makes the most of it. Hurt is essentially playing the kind of whiny pain in the ass we've come to know him for. He's sporadically funny, but the role is not much of a stretch for him. Cook shows hints of being able to handle something beyond comedic fare, although the script abandons him in the end.

The subplots involving Moore's detective are so distracting and useless that it's hard to appreciate the work she puts up on the screen. It's the very definition of a bad role, one written so poorly that it becomes an annoyance when she shows up. It's not so much her fault as the people who typed her part.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the much-maligned 3000 Miles to Graceland--where Costner killed people while impersonating Elvis--more than this one. It's not Costner's fault, because he delivers a chilling performance. Had the makers of the film excised two or three of the subplots, taken the Moore character's money away and given Hurt a song-and-dance number, we might've had something interesting here. As it stands, Mr. Brooks feels bloated, mundane and wasteful.

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