(director/writer: Bruce A. Evans; screenwriter: Raynold Gideon; cinematographer: John Lindley; editor: Miklos Wright; music: Ramin Djawadi; cast: Kevin Costner (Earl Brooks), Demi Moore (Detective Tracy Atwood), Dane Cook (Mr. Smith), William Hurt (Marshall), Marg Helgenberger (Emma Brooks), Danielle Panabaker (Jane), Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Hawkins), Jason Lewis (Jesse Vialo), Matt Schulze (Thornton Meeks), Reiko Aylesworth (Jesse’s Lawyer); Runtime: 120; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Jim Wilson/Kevin Costner/Raynold Gideon; MGM; 2007)
“Its wickedness is irresistible.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Bruce A. Evans (“Kuffs”) directs this goofy thriller about a serial killer; it strains credibility, but even if it’s absurd and has nothing socially relevant to offer it’s nevertheless enjoyable in a Brian De Palma sense. Though it’s in noir and psychological thriller territory, it could easily pass for an Eating Raoul type of black comedy. Its wickedness is irresistible. It’s cleverly written by Raynold Gideon and Evans, and even has a shocking fake ending that adds to the clever creepiness.
The titled character, the buttoned-up Mr. Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner), is a beloved family man and successful businessman (owns a box manufacturing company that does an international business he built from scratch), who has been honored as Portland’s Chamber of Commerce’s latest “Man of the Year.” His adoring wife Emma (Marg Helgenberger) can’t stop admiring him and his troubled college freshman daughter Jane (Danielle Panabaker) banks on his support, as she arrives to tell him she quit school and is pregnant. Earl has one serious problem, which he calls an addiction and for the last two years has attended A.A. meetings. His problem is that he’s addicted to murdering people and has committed a string of unsolved murders, leaving only his thumb print behind as his calling card. Earl speaks regularly to his alter ego Marshall (William Hurt), who offers advice, strategy and laughs. Though Earl wants to stop, he’s egged on by the smart ass doppelgänger to continue to enjoy his good life–which calls for killing strangers and leaving no viable clues or motives. The cops refer to him as the Thumbprint Killer, whose specialty is killing young lovers in the act of making love and posing their bodies.
Earl breaks his killing fast by executing a young couple making love with the shades open and the lights on, living in an apartment building that faces another building. A few days later a weird and nerdy mechanical engineer, a peeping-Tom who regularly photographed the couple from his third floor apartment in the other building, someone calling himself Mr. Smith (Dane Cook), witnessed the double murder and turns up at Earl’s business office to show him the incriminating photographs. He blackmails Earl into taking him along for his next murder, saying what a thrill it would give him to learn the ropes.
Investigating the killings is veteran detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore), whose father is worth sixty million dollars but whose money doesn’t interest her. She loves her job, and wants no help from anyone. Tracy is being divorced by her womanizing shiftless second husband, Jesse Vialo (Jason Lewis), someone she married on the rebound, who wants to take her for a few million dollars so he can be with his attractive lawyer (Reiko Aylesworth). To add to Tracy’s woes, Thornton Meeks (Matt Schulze), the Hangman serial killer escaped and has threatened to kill her since she was the arresting officer. This steroid monster’s claim to fame is that he strings up his victims and writes graffiti on their corpses.
Besides worrying about how to deal with an antsy Mr. Smith, who resents waiting to go out with Earl on a murder call, Earl learns that his daughter also left the campus because one of her classmates was killed with a hatchet. Two Palo Alto cops visit his mansion to question Jane, and dad realizes his daughter is a murderer and the cops are bound within a short time to link her with the crime. So being a good dad, he secretly visits in a disguise the campus and commits another hatchet murder. This does the trick and takes the heat off his daughter, as the cops now believe there’s a serial killer on the loose and his daughter has an airtight alibi. We are left with the questionable impression that serial killers are born and not made, as his daughter has inherited his serial killer traits.
There’s no argument if you maintain it’s absurd and strains all credibility, but it was so smartly done that not even Demi Moore’s stiff performance could spoil the fun. There’s something subversive and liberating about acting out one’s darkest impulses and being such a naughty terror, that is unless you are one of the victims. For the viewer, the fun is in the salaciously insane conversations between the real (Costner) and imaginary person (Hurt) while knowing the real person is a dangerous nutcase so admired for living out the American Dream. I can’t recall a role where I liked Costner better.
REVIEWED ON 6/2/2007 GRADE: B-