‘Criminal’: Kevin Costner stoked, Oldman a joke in loony thriller

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Kevin Costner as Jericho Stewart in “Criminal.” | Summit Entertainment

I’d like to believe “Criminal” stars Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman and Tommy Lee Jones got together for lunch one day during filming, and the conversation went something like this:

Costner: “Has it really been 25 years since we all did ‘JFK’? Man, that was a straight-out DOCUMENTARY compared to this piece of s—. Well boys, here’s to the paycheck.”

Oldman: “To the paycheck!”

Jones (grumbling under his breath): “The paycheck.”

Given the lurid, stupid, loony and unintentionally laughable nature of this espionage thriller, I found some measure of entertainment studying the vastly different approaches taken by Costner, Jones and Oldman — three of our finest actors over the last 30 years.

Costner plays lifelong sociopath Jericho Stewart. (Brace yourself, as that’s the first of many ridiculous names for characters in this film, and unless you’re watching a Marx Brothers movie, it’s almost never a good sign when a film is populated with overly “clever” character names.)

Jericho, we’re told, has a one-in-10-million brain condition that makes it impossible to differentiate right from wrong, love from hate. He feels no emotions whatsoever. He doesn’t understand how society works. He makes Hannibal Lecter look like your well-adjusted favorite uncle.

Costner hurls himself into the role with gusto. It’s kinda great. Sporting nasty stitches in his skull (more on that in a minute), a stocking cap, a goatee and an olive-green jacket, Jericho looks like a police sketch come to life. In a scene where Jericho befriends a little girl and helps her bury her stuffed elephant (don’t ask), Costner was grunting so much like Frankenstein’s monster I began to fear the little girl was going to hand him daisies and he was going to send her flying.

Oldman plays the CIA’s London chief, one (wait for it) Quaker Wells, a ruthless, seemingly unhinged fellow who makes one terrible, shortsighted, idiotic decision after another. (He’s also prone to barking things like, “Do you think I care if HE dies!” and, “They don’t matter!” — the latter comment pertaining to a widow and her child kidnapped by a terrorist.)

It’s a terrible performance by a great actor. Born-in-London, filming-in-London Oldman is playing an American, and he wrestles with (and loses to) some kind of harsh accent. Time and again, (let’s not forget that name) QUAKER WELLS screams bloody murder at subordinates and behaves so irrationally it’s a wonder he doesn’t blow himself up like a cartoon character.

And then there’s Tommy Lee Jones, who has never looked so tired and so resigned to his acting fate as he does here. Never the most animated of actors, Jones in this role is the human equivalent of an iPhone with a Low Battery warning. He just shuffles and mumbles about, reciting his lines as if someone he loves was being held hostage and he has no choice.

Get this. Jones plays Dr. Franks, as in shorthand for Dr. Frankenstein, because what happens in this movie is, when CIA Agent Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) is killed on assignment, Quaker Wells orders Dr. Franks to perform experimental surgery in which Bill’s memories can be “imprinted” on Jericho’s brain, because as you’ll recall, Jericho has that very rare condition, which makes him the perfect recipient for a whole new set of memories.

Of course, Jericho IS a psychopath and that part of him won’t be erased, but Quaker Wells isn’t about to let a little detail like that get in his way.

Why are Dead Bill’s memories so important? Because he just might know the whereabouts of the morally conflicted cyber-terrorist Jan Stroop (Michael Pitt), aka “The Dutchman,” who has developed a deep Internet wormhole giving him control over all of America’s military operation systems.

Now that Dr. Franks has downloaded Bill’s thoughts and experiences into Jericho’s brain, Jericho is America’s best hope to find the Dutchman. As Quaker Wells tells his team on more than one occasion, “Find the Dutchman!”

So now we’ve got Jericho on the loose in London (he escapes the clutches of the CIA on multiple occasions). Jericho is still a homicidal maniac, but now Dead Bill’s memories and emotions are swirling in a kind of cranium cocktail in Jericho’s head. One minute Jericho is executing foes, the next he’s experiencing soft-focus memories of Dead Bill’s beautiful wife (Wonder Woman herself, Gal Gadot), or he’s glimpsing flashes of clues that could lead him to the Dutchman.

The Americans hope to find the Dutchman before the “Spanish Anarchist” (as he’s identified in a title card) Hagbardaka Heimbahl finds him. Ooh, he’s a nasty one, that Hagbardaka Heimbahl. He’s one of those terrorists who WILL kidnap a child and point a gun at her head unless he gets his way. Booooo! Booooo!

Space considerations (and a sense of mercy) prevent me from telling you about characters named Pete Greensleeves, Shoo Shoo, Admiral Lance, Natalie Whisk and news anchor Matt Chatool. Lucky you.

Weird footnote: Just last year, Ryan Reynolds starred in “Self/less” as “Young Damian,” a perfect physical specimen encasing the mind, experience and memories of an elderly real estate mogul who has just died. Here, he’s playing a perfect physical specimen who dies but has his memories and emotions implanted into a crusty older guy.

And five years ago, Reynolds starred in “The Change-Up,” in which his dashing bachelor character switches bodies and lives with Jason Bateman’s happily married family man.

Apparently Ryan Reynolds really likes movies about the old switcheroo. Here’s hoping he doesn’t take it to the point of a male version of “Freaky Friday.”

Summit Entertainment presents a film directed by Ariel Vromen and written by Douglas Cook and David Weisberg. Running time: 113 minutes. Rated R (for strong violence and language throughout). Opens Friday at local theaters.

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