Mr. Brooks is a trainwreck, but not in the ‘I cannot turn away as this fast-moving train slams into another fast-moving train’ way. It’s more like ‘I have come upon the bloody, fiery wreckage of a wrecked train, and I can just make out some of the mechanical and body parts in this mess, and they look like they were once kind of nice.’
To be fair, the movie is almost worth seeing just for one line from William Hurt, who is playing Kevin Costner’s imaginary friend; looking at Dane Cook, Hurt says, ‘Even if he was funny and charming I still wouldn’t like him.’ You and me both, Bill.
The wreckage of Mr. Brooks contains the outline of what might have once been a clever script: the titular serial killer has been staying off the slaying path by going to AA meetings and admitting he’s addicted. But a relapse happens, and during that double murder he happens to be photographed by a man across the street – a man who finds the murder a huge thrill, and so he blackmails Mr. Brooks into taking him along for the next kill, all while Mr. Brooks is just trying to go cold turkey.
Sadly, the final movie piles subplot upon subplot, making what should have been a taut, disturbing thriller feel bloated and aimless. The movie throws in a detective who is hot on the trail of Mr. Brooks… who happens to have 60 million dollars in the bank. There’s also another serial killer in town… who happens to be looking for revenge on that detective. Meanwhile at home Mr. Brooks’ daughter has become pregnant and dropped out of school… but she’s hiding an even bigger secret. And the guy who blackmails Mr. Brooks listens to a Louis CK stand-up routine… and rips it off.
Okay, so that last part didn’t happen. In the movie. But before I start dissecting the rest of the film, let’s take up the issue of Dane Cook, who plays the killer wannabe. I know I never expected to say this in print, but… Cook’s pretty good in this movie. Of course the role calls for him to play a feckless douchebag moron, so he’s not quite stretching those acting muscles of his, but I was amazed at how much Dane Cook is not the worst part of the movie. In fact, in a version of Mr. Brooks that stripped the story down to the basics, he’d be a good foil for Kevin Costner.
And while we’re talking about Costner, let’s single out the other two fine performances in this film (these are those metaphorical recognizable body parts in that trainwreck: ‘Hey, that dame had nice gams… wonder where the rest of her is?’): Costner and William Hurt. The movie doesn’t play cutesy with us, making us think that Hurt is really there, so that frees him and Costner to have a nice double act. Costner is, as usual, the epitome of Midwestern squareness, while Hurt is his raving, sexualized id. Costner doesn’t curse; Hurt drops f-bombs left and right. They’re a strong team, and again, in a film that’s stripped down to the core, they could have really delivered career best performances.
But this film isn’t stripped down, and it’s filled with badness like Demi Moore playing the ultra-rich cop. Moore has never been my idea of a ‘good’ actor, but in this film she seems to be playing to the TV movie crowd. She finds nothing inside of her character, which I guess is acceptable, as there’s nothing written for her to find. Frankly it feels like her character was written male and the genders just switched to accommodate a name that could sell the film in international markets (although her backstory does end up hinging on being a woman, it feels tacked on at the end of the movie).
Then there’s the daughter storyline, which is just laughably stupid. I won’t spoil it for those who might be interested in seeing the movie when it shows up on Encore Mystery in August, but the whole story with the daughter feels like a sequel idea that the screenwriter tossed into this one; it creates a second act diversion that leaves you scratching your head as to why the film decided to bother going there. To compound the uselessness of the plot, the actress playing the daughter, Danielle Panabaker is an almost completely anonymous human being; you get the feeling you could talk to her for hours, go to the bathroom and return to not recognize her.
The worst thing about Mr. Brooks is how much I wanted it to be good for Kevin Costner’s sake. When he was at the top of his game, one of the biggest stars in the country, I couldn’t stand his smug face, but the last couple of years have done something to him for me; maybe I can just find his humanity easier after seeing him lain a little low. Or maybe it’s just been so long since I saw Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves that I’ve forgot how much that movie made me hate him. But this is no Open Range, or even The Upside of Anger – neither of those movies would be caught dead having a silent shoot out beneath strobing lights, scored to some kind of late 90s sub-Crystal Method techno. Mr. Brooks does, and the movie thinks it’s pretty cool. Turns out the film is just as square as its lead character, but at least he knows it. Mr. Brooks wants to be The Talented Mr. Ripley, but the film never manages to maintain the suspense, character or emotion that Anthony Minghella's classic so effortlessly brought to the screen. But it does end with the possibility of sequels, and much like Ripley's follow-ups, we'll never see them.