The ’80s and ’90s were good to Kevin Costner, providing him with a string of blockbuster films including Silverado, The Untouchables, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, Dances With Wolves, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, JFK, The Bodyguard and Wyatt Earp. That all changed in 1995 when Costner gave us the perennial punch line Waterworld. Since then, the actor’s films—some good, some bad (Thirteen Days and The Upside of Anger the former, 3000 Miles to Graceland and Dragonfly the later)—have failed to capture the high-flying vibe of decades past. What’s an aging heartthrob to do?
Well, Chapter 6 of The Hollywood Playbook says, “Change your image by getting cast against type.” If, for example, Costner were an innocent young TV actress, he would be doing his first raunchy sex scene right about now. But he’s not, so he’s taking on the role of a very bad man in Mr. Brooks.
I’m going to go ahead and issue a rare spoiler alert here: If you’re a major fan of Costner and are intrigued to see him in a new light, stop reading this review right now and go see the movie. Watching it cold, free of even the most basic character description, will provide you with a few worthwhile surprises. If, on the other hand, you’re no particular fan of Costner and are going to need some serious convincing to check out a film he’s headlining, keep reading.
In Mr. Brooks, Costner plays the titular character, a mild-mannered suburban husband who runs a successful box factory. (How mild-mannered is that?) The film opens with him winning a Businessman of the Year award. But almost immediately, we get the sense something isn’t quite right with Mr. Brooks. In fact, it takes only a few minutes for us to be introduced to Marshall (William Hurt). Marshall is Mr. Brooks’ invisible alter-ego, a murder-
For two years, Brooks has fought off his bloody addiction (thanks in no small part to the AA meetings he attends under slightly false pretenses). But the itch is back, and the seductive Marshall knows just how to scratch it. Unfortunately, after indulging in the meticulous murder of an urban couple in coitus, Brooks finds himself the target of blackmail by a sleazy amateur photographer (Dane Cook, also playing against type) who’s privy to our man’s nocturnal hobby. This isn’t your garden variety blackmail, however, so I’ll leave that particular plot twist for the cinema.
Mr. Brooks certainly showcases a different side to Costner, and I’m forced to admit it’s a good one. From start to finish, I was barely aware I was watching Kevin Costner. I realize that sounds like an insult, but it’s actually a compliment. Credit goes to Costner for actually eliciting sympathy despite the fact that he’s an insane murderer. With all the angst weighing down on him (a neglected wife, a troubled daughter and a scumbag blackmailing him over his unfortunate habit of shooting attractive young couples in the brainpan), there are actually moments when you feel sorry for the dude.
William Hurt is an always-welcome presence, heading up the rather large supporting cast. Hurt seems to relish the plumb position of Costner’s gleeful, charming, quietly cajoling dark side, and the two have some great back-and-forth sessions. Demi Moore, long MIA on the big screen, is decent enough as a police detective hot on the heels of the mysterious serial killer stalking her district. Marg Helgenberger from “CSI” doesn’t get to do much as Brooks’ patient wife, but it’s good to see her anyway. As far as Dane Cook is concerned ... well, any film that continually promises his imminent death and dismemberment can’t be all bad, now can it?
The only major problem for the film is the script, which has some clever ideas and sharp dialog, but nearly chokes to death on subplots. A major one involving Demi Moore’s impending divorce should have been cut—or at least severely trimmed—as it only serves to distract from the main storyline. Another subplot, in which Moore searches for a vengeful killer who has just escaped from jail, is similarly tangential.
While the concept of a rich, successful, happily married, highly functional, yet completely bat-crap insane serial killer is faintly ridiculous, Mr. Brooks is self-aware enough to keep its tongue in its cheek, shoveling just enough black humor to smooth over the bumpy plot holes. It’s definitely a career change for Costner, and might just rate as a guilty pleasure among audience members looking to put a little blood in their summertime diet.
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