Mr. Brooks — in which Kevin Costner plays a respectable Seattle businessman who kills for thrills, thanks to the goading of an imaginary friend who looks a lot like William Hurt — is stunningly tepid, neither the clever and poignant metaphor for addiction it strives to be nor the darkly comic Harvey it could have been. Indeed, Costner's Earl Brooks is such a square (appropriate, perhaps, for a man who made his fortune in box manufacturing) that he kills all of two people in the movie's first ninety minutes or so. And he feels so bad about it, too — what's fun about that?
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Mr. Brooks spends most of the film arguing with his phantom pal —it's less a serial-killer movie than a buddy picture — and trying to talk himself out of committing murder, which seems an awfully futile way to sell Costner's grisly comeback as the bad guy he's avoided playing for most of his up-and-down career. He killed more people as dreary do-gooder Eliot Ness in The Untouchables, for God's sake.
If only Mr. Brooks didn't take itself so seriously, and if only director Bruce Evans and writer Raynold Gideon — both men known, if you can call it that, for having written Jungle 2 Jungle and Cutthroat Island — weren't trying so hard to make some point about the hereditary nature of addiction. Because that's all this is: a morality tale in which a father (Costner) passes along to his daughter (Danielle Panabaker) his killer genes and then tries to reverse the cycle of addiction, lest his little girl wind up as tortured as he claims to be. Mr. Brooks mutters the Serenity Prayer to himself and goes to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, but the device is hollow and ham-fisted, a slight gag meant to elicit an ironic chuckle, not illuminate a character.
Mr. Brooks is only half Costner's film, though; the rest belongs to Demi Moore, likewise trying to reignite a career as something other than Ashton Kutcher's babysitter. She plays a police detective named Tracy Atwood who's hunting for two serial killers — not just Costner's so-called Thumbprint Killer, but also a man billing himself as The Hangman (Matt Schulze), who, aptly, executes his victims and leaves them swinging in public places. Atwood — whose boss says things like "I'll keep the FBI out of it for three days" — has her own personal problems: She's divorcing her second husband (Jason Lewis, Sex and the City's hunkariffic Smith), a restaurateur who wants to bite off a big chunk of the $60 million fortune she got from her wealthy old man.
So relentlessly dull is Mr. Brooks that you're likely to let your mind wander as it drifts from plot line to plot line, wasting most of its two-hour running time introducing unnecessary characters — at one point, there's a living room full of lawyers to whom we're never even introduced — till its mad-dash finale. To pass the time, you might sit there, as I did, and think to yourself that it's nice that Hurt and Costner finally get to be in a movie together, after Costner's scenes were excised from The Big Chill. And then you might recall that Costner's never been better than he was as jive-talking gunslinger Jake in Lawrence Kasdan's Big Chill followup, Silverado. And then you might think, no, Costner was actually better in Bull Durham — a toss-up, maybe. And then you might start wondering how the man who was so wonderful so long ago as Crash Davis wound up making three of the worst movies in recent memory: Waterworld, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and The Postman. And then you might recall that he was pretty great in The Upside of Anger, in which he played a drunken, angrier version of his voluble younger self. And then you might wonder why Kevin Costner doesn't allow himself to be funny very often, noting that he's a rather clammy dramatic actor who seems to absorb all life around him when he's got his Serious Face on. And then you might snap out of it for a second or two — say, the one time Mr. Brooks laughs — only to slip back into your multiplex reverie. And then you might wonder of the guy who plays Brooks's wannabe protegé: Why the fuck is Dane Cook famous?