If you're expecting Mindhunters to be a psychological thriller and you buy a ticket for the movie, you will almost indubitably feel cheated. But break down the film's title to its most literal sense -- hunting for a mind, presumably because those involved were out of theirs -- and you'll know exactly what to expect. This is, after all, a Renny Harlin film, which means it'll be bad. The only question is: Will it be goofy, nacho-cheese bad, like Deep Blue Sea and The Adventures of Ford Fairlaine, or just plain old godawful-bad, like Driven or Cliffhanger?
Thankfully, the former. And how could it not be when the film is more or less a remake of Deep Blue Sea, minus the sharks? There's the computer-generated, isolated-island lab; a demographically mixed group of victims who will be picked off one by one; the sense that all these deaths are the result of government irresponsibility; and even a sudden, shocking celebrity death scene, mirroring Deep Blue Sea's most memorable moment. All that, and LL Cool J, too. Oh, and the movie opens with images of deep water and someone drowning: This will later prove to be of minor importance in a key scene.
Following the credits, we pick up with FBI trainees Christian Slater and Minority Report's Kathryn Morris (looking here like Ellen DeGeneres, strangely enough) on the trail of a serial killer through fake-looking snow. Like every serial killer imagined by screenwriters nowadays, this one is clearly a goth and owns a large old house full of doll parts, music boxes and dead animals. But things are not as they appear: A rather obvious "surprise" occurs, and in short order, our profilers-in-training are being reprimanded by teacher Val Kilmer, whose casting feels like a deliberate tipoff that his character may be insane.
Slater's and Morris's characters are part of a larger class whose students, for their final exam, are to be shipped off to a remote island that's been tricked out as a sort of CSI-themed Disneyland infested with stray cats, which are good to create cheap shocks with, à la Alien, or kill for cheap grossouts, à la Gummo. Somewhere in this new environment lies a staged crime scene, clues to the nature of which could be anywhere and everywhere. Among the stranded: LL Cool J as a last-minute government liaison, Jonny Lee Miller as an annoyingly fake Southerner (even his Trainspotting co-star Ewan McGregor does better American accents), big-screen newcomer Will Kemp as a spunky Brit (standout line: "'E just pulled that gun ou' of 'is arse!"), Clifton Collins Jr. as a surly gun nut in a wheelchair, and Patricia Velasquez as -- surprise! -- a hot-tempered Latina.
A strangled cat with a broken watch in its guts kicks off the excitement as the group splits into teams of two to find their assignment. No sooner do they find it than a preposterously elaborate and easily escapable death trap activates, claiming a life at exactly the time shown on the broken watch. The rest of the movie is basically a series of repetitions of this action, as Rube Goldberg-esque devices proceed to kill one victim at a time, always at exactly the hour specified on a conspicuously placed broken clock. It is determined via infrared rays that no one else is on the island, so one of the group is most likely the killer, adding to the paranoia.
In other words, this is a slasher movie. It's not about the characters or the dramatic tension or any kind of believability. It's about how cool the death scenes are, and on that score, Harlin is a champ. Recalling the gory, grotesque kills he devised for Freddy Krueger back in A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4, he has invested most of his time and energy on Mindhunters into creative, gruesome demises. But they're not entirely random: When the pattern behind the killings is finally revealed, it adds a nice touch to the proceedings. Props to screenwriter Wayne Kramer (The Cooler) for that and for not telegraphing exactly whose time is up next. When anyone can die at any time, it's a good recipe for suspense.
Regarding that, though, it does tend to undercut the tension when one is saddled with a majorly crappy score (credited to Finnish composer Tuomas Kantelinen) that vacillates from mediocre hard rock to intrusive orchestral without any apparent regard for what's actually on the screen. It's also lame when a climactic confrontation suddenly devolves into sped-up kung fu, especially since neither participant looks all that well versed in the martial arts. Of the cast, only Collins delivers a memorable performance with the sort of energy and intensity this film needs; Kilmer's good, too, but basically a glorified cameo.
Despite all its flaws -- and there are enough to render Mindhunters indefensible on most purely cinematic levels -- there are times when certain movie-goers just feel the need to stare far-fetched, blood-drenched death in the eye and laugh. It's here, so have at it.
Get the Film & TV Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.