Mr. Brooks

(2007) ** R
120 min. MGM. Director: Bruce Evans. Cast: Kevin Costner, William Hurt, Demi Moore, Dane Cook, Matt Schulze.

I'll say this for Mr. Brooks, the new thriller starring Kevin Costner as a suave serial killer. It's not boring. But it is trashy, ridiculous, and juvenile in its plotting. A particular selling point is William Hurt as Costner's imaginary friend, the devil on his shoulder who prods him to keep killing. Hurt's a hoot, which is more than can be said for Demi Moore as the detective/heiress weathering a divorce while tracking Mr. Brooks and fending off a second serial killer who's "escaped from jail." Yes, it's "Stars of the '80s"!

And the dingbatty plot feels like an '80s leftover as well. It's a paperback thriller, right from its laughable opening-title card: "The hunger has returned to Mr. Brooks' brain. It never really left." After a two-year break from killing—during which he attended AA meetings for his murder "addiction"—Brooks falls off the wagon. Unfortunately, a reckless error betrays that he's a bit out of practice (or maybe, sez Hurt's Marshall, he wants to be caught). A perv (comedian-actor Dane Cook) across the way witnesses the murder and blackmails Mr. insisting Brooks teach him the ropes of serial killing.

Though Dane Cook as a stupid, amoral prick is good casting, Brooks' luck to get a wannabe serial killer as the sole witness to his crime strains credulity. And the movie is filled with such crazy coincidences you'd have to see it to believe it (but please don't). A subplot involving Brooks' daughter (Danielle Panabaker) and her predisposition for assuming the family business is, at best, a clumsy metaphor for the cycle of addiction, and that's one of the film's least stupid ideas. Writer-director Bruce A. Evans makes Mr. Brooks the CEO of a box factory—because who would suspect the CEO of a box factory? Plus he's pro-life—how ironic!

Costner remains an appealing screen presence, even floating through crap, but the moribund serial-killer genre will have to do better than Mr. Brooks to justify its continued existence. If only Evans had taken a left turn and made his movie the outright comedy it resembles, he may have had something. Sadly, Evans has been earnestly stumping for Mr. Brooks sequels for months before the picture's opening, and indeed he lays the groundwork here for a continuation. Do your part to nip that plan in the bud by spending your movie dollars elsewhere.

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