Bill Pope (Ryan Reynolds) is a CIA agent on a mission in London tracking down a shadowy hacker nicknamed "The Dutchman." When he gets mysteriously ambushed and killed, an experimental procedure is used to transfer his memories into dangerous ex-convict Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner). When he wakes up with the CIA agent's memories, his mission is to find The Dutchman and eliminate him before the hacker launches ICBM's and starts World War III. But complications soon arise and the mission turns personal.
'Criminal,' the latest action thriller from Ariel Vromen, Israeli-born director of 2012's excellent biopic 'The Iceman,' pulls the rug from under the audience in its opening moments with a monster MacGuffin in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock's seminal horror classic 'Psycho.' A frantic and desperate-looking Ryan Reynolds appears on screen covertly snagging a black bag with millions of dollars and a passport. But apparently, he's not as sly and cunning as he thought himself to be and is quickly surrounded by dogged agents who conveniently possess the technological know-how to hack GPS directions and be pretty much everywhere in London within a matter of seconds. (Siri will hand over your whereabouts for the right price!) Feeling like a tip of the hat to Hitchcock, Reynolds plays a less attractive and beguiling version of the Janet Leigh role, pulling us into the mystery of the money bag and the reasons behind a foot chase that suddenly erupts into a decently rousing shootout. The entire sequence suggests a spy thriller where Reynolds might play a major role, but as the Leigh trope, his death at the hands of anarchist-terrorist Xavier Heimdahl (Jordi Mollà) only sets up the real plot in which the 'Deadpool' star is erased from memory.
Wobbly intimations of Hitchcock's influence continue as the bag full of cash literally becomes a MacGuffin, a plot device triggering all the events that follow and prompting our hero to the film's true central theme. The script by Douglas Cook and David Weisberg, the same tag-team that wrote Michael Bay's 'The Rock,' features a series of laughably loony ideas, starting with the money meant as payoff to a hacker (Michael Pitt) who created a wormhole program that bypasses the world's nuclear defense codes. With Reynolds gone and the stakes this high, a sorely agitated and ranting Gary Oldman shows up as a CIA supervisor wildly raging to capture and pay the hacker for the program. Desperate to ground the story with some semblance of reality, the threat grows even more convoluted when the grizzled worrywart supervisor contracts Dr. Mahal Franks (a noticeably exhausted and bored Tommy Lee Jones) to perform an experimental procedure that would transfer Reynolds's memories to another person. Jones's quieter, more restrained performance is a counterbalance to Oldman's frenzied hollerings, and the both combined are a distraction from a cartoonish premise that would make a hilarious SNL skit.
And as if the concept weren't enough for sketch-comedy material already, the filmmakers believe an even more disheveled, grumpy and significantly older Kevin Costner makes the perfect candidate for bearing Reynolds's secrets. Granted, the award-winning actor is arguably more experienced and fitting for this type of movie, but he's also 21 years Reynold's senior and not nearly as fit. In reality, this is the equivalent of seeing Hugh Jackman on Saturday Night Live as a super secret agent transformed into a bumbling, klutzy Bobby Moynihan — though I think Chris Farley would ideally make it hysterical. But Jones's unappreciated doctor swats away naysayers with some medical mumbo jumbo about underdeveloped frontal lobes and proclaims the most suitable candidate is Costner's emotionally callow, recklessly impulsive inmate Jericho Stewart, who apparently wears a locked collar chained to the ceiling of his windowless cell. All things considered, Costner does remarkably well in the role of a dangerous convict entrusted with locating the bag of cash, a hacker and saving the nation from nuclear annihilation.
Amazingly, as silly as the premise sounds, the filmmakers manage to pull if off with enjoyable effectiveness and should be applauded for at least making the cartoonish notion reasonably entertaining. As though taking further inspiration from Hitchcock's classic spy features, the story switches gears from an action spy thriller to an espionage drama when Jericho begins grappling with emotions and attributes he never knew he possessed. Watching Costner convincingly grow from remorselessly cruel and bullying, taking freely from restaurants while smiling or yelling expletives to a young woman at a pharmacy counter, is a large part of the production's success. And all thanks to an unwilling donor who was not only a government agent but a loving father and doting husband to Gal Gadot, another emotional element for nudging Jericho's journey from homicidal indifference to compassionate human. It's also essential for accomplishing a rather mawkish conclusion that's sadly undermined by a goofy, eye-rolling twist. When it comes down to it in a by-the-numbers, predictable production, it's at least a welcomed throwaway where the action is in the service of the story and not the other way around.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Summit Home Entertainment brings 'Criminal' to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack with a flyer for a Digital HD Copy. At the moment, we are unable to verify if the correct size of the content, but the dual-layered UHD66 disc sits comfortably opposite a Region A locked, BD50 disc inside a black, eco-cutout case with a glossy slipcover. At startup, the disc goes straight to the main menu with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
'Criminal' makes a run for it on Ultra HD Blu-ray with a capable and respectable HEVC H.265 encode in HDR10 that goes pretty far with several triumphant feats worth appreciation. However, it doesn't quite reach its intended goal or get away cleanly without a few missteps along the way. Much of this is due to the heavily stylized photography of Dana Gonzales not lending itself ideally to the full potential of the new format.
Don't get me wrong, the cinematography of the film actually makes for a lovely watch that complements the film's tone and theme, but the digital photography comes with a deliberately subdued tone for a drearily somber and overcast atmosphere. The freshly-minted transfer enjoys a well-balanced high dynamic range, making for a slightly brighter and tad more dazzling presentation than its day-and-date Blu-ray counterpart. The whites of the button-down shirts of the agents and Godot's spotless dresses are intensely bright and crisp while the specular highlights in the clouds of the sky and along the edges of metal objects come with a distinguishable, realistic glow. Yet, there are several instances of those same highlights looking a bit overblown and much too strong, most noticeably during fiery explosions and in some of the fluorescent light fixtures engulfing the extra fine details.
Also, brightness levels evidently suffer due to the filmmaker's stylized approach, making it the weakest aspect of the 2160p video. Although there are many appreciable gradational differences in the clothing and several poorly-lit sequences, blacks overall look very murky and lackluster, creating a decidedly flat and drab two-dimensional 2.40:1 image. Shadows, for the most part, allow for great visibility during the darkest moments, but too many times, I couldn't clearly make out the small items in the background. As far as I can tell, it appears the source has not been color graded to take advantage of the wider color gamut, and the results are sadly humdrum for such a recent production. The 4K presentation is surprisingly not very colorful, but colors remain accurate and full-bodied with cleanly rendered primaries. Granted, reds and blues are fairly bright and glowing throughout, but the overall palette is comparable to its 1080p counterpart and is frankly somewhat achromatic for UHD.
On the other hand, where the sci-fi actioner shows the biggest improvement over the Blu-ray is in terms of definition and clarity, showing distinct, resolute fine lines for a good chunk of the runtime. A majority of the movie was shot on a digital Arri Alexa XT camera that maxes at 2.8K resolution and some action sequences were filmed using the Red Epic Dragon system with a native 6K resolution in DCI-P3 color space. Later, the raw data was mastered in a 2K digital intermediate, which was then upconverted to 4K for this release. Though some scenes look a bit softer than others, most of the presentation is highly detailed, exposing every wrinkle and blemish in the faces during close-ups. Individual bricks on buildings are distinct, and the tiniest stain and flaw of various buildings throughout London are crystal-clear. Facial complexions look great and lifelike on the whole, but there were a couple times when actors oddly appeared flushed and sickly. And there were also some negligible hints of aliasing in the sharpest edges of monitors, windows and tops of buildings, but all in all, Jericho-Bill makes his grand escape to Ultra HD Blu-ray with some proficiency, though it's not enough to take down his enemies.
The sci-fi spy drama takes aim and hunts down his target with the same thoroughly enjoyable DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack as heard on the Blu-ray. From the opening moments, the design generates a terrifically enveloping soundscape, furnishing the surrounds with a variety of noises and activities. The sounds of bustling London streets and traffic spread everywhere with discrete clarity, and an unexpected shootout bursts forth with resounding enthusiasm, as every bullet fired convincingly echoes all around. Other action sequences arrive with similar results as the tiny thumps and clatter of debris land in every corner the room, creating several amusingly satisfying moments of immersion. Quieter, more intimate conversations, unfortunately, rapidly redirect the attention to the center of the screen, which is not a bad thing considering the plot's dramatic elements. However, the sudden lack of activity in the rears is very apparent, making the shortage of even the subtlest atmospherics in the background just a tad distracting. On the other hand, a majority of the lossless mix is satisfying with excellent directionality.
The excitement and thrills continue in the fronts, delivering an amazingly spacious and incredibly expansive soundstage with noteworthy channel balance. Whether it's cars, helicopters or bullets, the action moves and pans from one side to the other with fluid precision and fidelity, creating a terrifically engaging wall of sound that's littered with a variety of convincing off-screen activity. Even during the loudest segments, the design remains distinct and dynamic with room-penetrating clarity, exhibiting outstanding detailing between the mids and highs without the slightest hint of distortion. The music of Brian Tyler and Keith Power benefits with striking separation in the orchestration while also extending into the rears for welcomed moments of envelopment. The low-end is powerful and robust, energizing the room with a palpable punch and weight in every bullet fired, the deafening explosions and the electro-infused score (bass chart). Dialogue is precise with excellent intonation in the various voices, making this an exceptional lossless mix for an otherwise average actioner.
'Criminal' is the latest action sci-fi thriller from director Ariel Vromen that relies heavily on a few MacGuffins and a premise that's frankly silly. But in spite of that, the production manages to pull it off with an engaging dramatic center that grounds the silliness from collapsing into itself and featuring well-rounded performances by a cast that engages viewers.
This Ultra HD Blu-ray arrives with a strong 4K video presentation though the heavily stylized photography keeps the video from truly shining. Nevertheless, the movie arrives with a satisfying and enjoyable audio presentation, joined by the same collection of supplements featured in its Blu-ray counterpart. Overall, the package is worth checking for early adopters who are already fans of the movie and simply want to expand their growing UHD library.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.