Sunday, May 15, 2005


Mindhunters (Director: Renny Harlin)

Here's another for-hire director who has a lot of name films on his resume. The Finnish director's first major film was A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, which somehow led to the gig of Die Hard 2. Then there was the Andrew Dice Clay vehicle Adventures of Ford Fairlane. Then came his biggest worldwide hit in Cliffhanger. After that, he directed one of the most notorious bombs in history with Cutthroat Island, a movie that lost 80 million dollars. Then came the decent B-action flick The Long Kiss Goodnight and an even better guilty pleasure in Deep Blue Sea. He re-teamed with Stallone with Driven, another huge bomb, and then tackled another chapter to a franchise he did not start with Exorcist: The Beginning, a film begun by Paul Schrader that Warner Brothers was not happy with and he got the replacement job. Mindhunters was set for a 2003 release, and got pushed back probably due to numerous changes and the Dimension/Miramax/Disney squabble. Wayne Kramer (The Cooler) wrote the script.

So, I guess it's official that Renny Harlin makes B-pictures disguised as A's. There is an art to making the B-picture, a type of film that can be highly enjoyable if you keep it simple and fast. There's a thin line between the bad ones, which are usually generic, and the good ones, which have some sort of hook. Take, for instance, in the horror genre, the difference between Boogeyman and Saw. I don't think all too many people love Boogeyman, but there are a lot of people who love Saw. They're both B-pictures, but Saw got some points by trying something a little different.

Here's one that steps over into the dark side of B-pictures. It has a nice premise; wannabe profilers for the FBI get sent to an island for training and start getting offed one-by-one by one of their own. But the "traps," the methods by which the killer has his way, aren't very interesting after the first one--one that I hoped would be representative of the movie and thereby make it fun.

The movie stars cutie "Cold Case" lead Kathryn Morris (who shares my birthday) as Sara Moore, whose weakness is her stomach for the work, along with Christian Slater as team leader J.D. Reston, hottie Patricia Velasquez (The Mummy) as Nicole Willis, Jonny Lee Miller (Trainspotting, former lucky bastard who married Angelina Jolie) as sure-bet Lucas Harper, Clifton Collins, Jr. (The Last Castle) as wheelchair-bound Vince Sherman, Val Kilmer as wacko FBI trainer Jake Harris, and LL Cool J as sort of an internal affairs FBI guy Gabe Jensen.

Just like any twisty thriller, everybody here could be the killer, and it gets to the point where the movie loses its ability to surprise at all. It's also obvious that different endings were filmed, because the film has actors change their characters in the actual, presented finale. There's one point that a movie device I call "The Psycho Switch" is flipped on a couple of characters, the switch that is flipped on when the movie is ready to reveal the killer and the games end, and the requisite bloody finale involving the unmasked killer who never dies occurs. "The Psycho Switch" is never believable--we are taught in psychology classes that serial killers always seem like normal people, and I believe this normality is still present even during the act of killing. Everything seems logical. Killing is no different from slicing a tomato. And while the eventual revealed killer doesn't go Charles Manson or anything, it is a noticeable change, with the exhausting explanation (the reveal reminded me of the god-awful reveal in Gothika).

One thing going for it: One of the best cheesy lines ever uttered in a film. It's a line spoken by LL Cool J at the end, a line that will make you groan, and then laugh at how ridiculous it is. This will make mention at my end-of-year observations for sure.


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