One character in the mystery-thriller Mindhunters notes, "At the end of the day, building a better mousetrap is just mechanics." Within that comment is the philosophy of director Renny Harlin and writers Wayne Kramer and Kevin Brodbin. Of course, their film is less Mousetrap than Ten Little Indians and less Ten Little Indians than Deep Blue Sea, a Renny Harlin action-thriller which also featured stupid people in a remote, tricked-out setting being picked off one by one.
This time, it's a bunch of FBI trainees taking their final exam to join the psychological profiling division. Someone's got to be ready to psychoanalyze serial killers or at least be available to the hundreds of screenwriters inventing serial killers every day. Anyway, I guess this makes them the "Mindhunters" of the title, but I'd just as soon chalk that title up to their brainlessness than their supposed profiling skill.
Val Kilmer plays Jake Harris, the unpredictable instructor who dumps the class on a remote island training facility. There, the competitive profiler candidates (Christian Slater, Kathryn Morris, Eion Bailey, Will Kemp, Clifton Collins Jr., Jonny Lee Miller, Patricia Velasquez) and an invited observer (James Todd Smith a.k.a. LL Cool J) quickly discover that this isn't a training exercise but the real thing. A serial killer among them is determined to be the last one standing after setting elaborate traps and turning each agent against the other.
Mindhunters has infamously gathered dust for two years as Dimension aborted three previous release dates. Maybe they were afraid of its cheesy 80s slickness (faux Hermann scoring meets bad guitar solos). They shouldn't have been so afraid, though, since Mindhunters is middle-of-the-road as far as bad movies go. Harlin brings a slick efficiency to silly action movies, even this one, and the cast has a good mix of established actors who bring camp value (Slater, Kilmer, and Cool J, in a variation on his Deep Blue Sea role) and serviceable fresh faces.
But if Mindhunters is rarely boring, it's never actually good, either. It's not one of those mysteries that dazzles with its brilliant resolution, but rather one of those mysteries that kills suspense by not giving any actual clues to the killer's identity or, indeed, making any psychological sense. Clues are doled out, but the few of them that have anything to do with the killer's identity are not criminology clues but screenwriting clues. The net result of this is an ending that feels like a slap in the face instead of a "gotcha" twist.
Based on what I thought were clues as I played along, I imagined an ending that would be more surprising and plausible than the actual ending. Arguably, that could be a good sign that a mystery is doing its job, but you haven't seen this ending. The killer wants to raise the bar from "tired old hacks like Bundy, Gacy, and Dahmer," but you'd best lower your expectations to enjoy the mechanics of this Saw-esque mousetrap.