Mr. Brooks—in which Kevin Costner plays a respectable Seattle businessman who kills for thrills, thanks to the goading of an imaginary friend who looks a lot like William Hurt—is stunningly tepid, neither the clever and poignant metaphor for addiction it strives to be nor the darkly comic Harvey it could have been. Indeed, Costner's Earl Brooks is such a square (appropriate, perhaps, for a man who made his fortune in box manufacturing) that he kills all of two people in the movie's first 90 minutes or so. And he feels so bad about it too. What fun's about that?
Mr. Brooks spends most of the film arguing with his phantom pal—it's less a serial-killer movie than a buddy picture—and trying to talk himself out of committing murder, which seems an awfully futile way to sell Costner's grisly comeback as the bad guy he's avoided playing for most of his up-and-down career. He killed more people as dreary do-gooder Eliot Ness in The Untouchables, for God's sake.
If only Mr. Brooks didn't take itself so seriously, and if only director Bruce Evans and writer Raynold Gideon—both men known, if you can call it that, for having written Jungle 2 Jungle and Cutthroat Island—weren't trying so hard to make some point about the hereditary nature of addiction. Because that's all this is: a morality tale in which a father (Costner) passes along to his daughter (Danielle Panabaker) his killer genes and then tries to reverse the cycle of addiction, lest his little girl wind up as tortured as he claims to be. Mr. Brooks mutters to himself the Serenity Prayer ("God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change...") and goes to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings (where he admits only to being "an addict"), but the device is hollow and ham-fisted—a slight gag meant to elicit an ironic chuckle, not illuminate a character so barely fleshed out he's little more than a bespectacled skeleton firing blanks at the audience's heads.
Directed by Bruce Evans. Written by Bruce Evans and Raynold Gideon. Starring Kevin Costner, Demi Moore, William Hurt and Dane Cook. Opens Friday.
But Mr. Brooks is only half Costner's film; the rest belongs to Demi Moore, likewise trying to reignite a career as something other than Ashton Kutcher's baby-sitter. She plays police detective Tracy Atwood, who's hunting for two serial killers—not only Costner's so-called Thumbprint Killer, but also a man who bills himself as the Hangman (Matt Schulze), who, naturally, executes his victims and then leaves them swinging in public places. Atwood—whose boss says things like, "I'll keep the F.B.I. out of it for three days"—has her own personal problems: She's divorcing her second husband (Jason Lewis, Sex and the City's hunkariffic Smith), a restaurateur who wants to bite off a big chunk of the $60 million fortune she got from her wealthy old man. And, yes, if you too want to know why someone worth 60 mil would risk her life getting shot at by a guy named the Hangman, well, you're not the only one; it nags at Mr. Brooks almost as much as William Hurt's mysterious Marshall.
Speaking of Hurt: So relentlessly dull is Mr. Brooks you're likely to let your mind wander as it drifts from plotline to plotline, wasting most of its two-hour running time introducing unnecessary characters—at one point, there's a living room full of lawyers to whom we're never even introduced—till its mad-dash finale. To pass the time, you might sit there, as I did, and think to yourself that it's nice Hurt and Costner finally get to be in a movie together, after Costner's scenes were excised from The Big Chill. And then you might recall that Costner's never been better than he was as jive-talking gunslinger Jake in Lawrence Kasdan's Big Chill follow-up, 1985's retro Western Silverado.
And then you might think, no, Costner was actually better in Bull Durham—a toss-up, maybe. And then you might start wondering how the man who was so wonderful so long ago as Crash Davis wound up making three of the worst movies in recent memory: Waterworld, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and The Postman. And then you might recall he was pretty great in The Upside of Anger, in which he played a drunken, angrier version of his voluble younger self. And then you might wonder why Kevin Costner doesn't allow himself to be funny very often, noting that he's a rather clammy dramatic actor who seems to absorb all life around him when he's got his Serious Face on.
And then you might snap out of it for a second or two—say, the one time Mr. Brooks laughs or during a gunfight in the dark that looks more like an acid-washed rave than a duel to the death—only to slip back into your multiplex reverie. And then you might wonder about the guy who plays Brooks' wannabe protégé: Why the fuck is Dane Cook famous?
Get the Film & TV Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.