by Mel Valentin
What do you get when you mix a serial killer/whodunit featuring a B-level cast, generic, colorless characters, a mystery plot lifted from Agatha Christie’s "Ten Little Indians," and Renny Harlin’s ("Die Hard 2," "Cliffhanger", "Cutthroat Island," "Driven") directorial prowess? If you expected a stunning piece of mediocrity, ludicrously conceived and executed with little imagination, then "Mindhunters" is the film for you.In Agatha Christie’s "classic" whodunit, Ten Little Indians, a seemingly disparate group of individuals is invited to an island retreat by a mysterious benefactor. Once on the island, the characters discover that they've been purposely isolated from the mainland, the better for an unseen killer to target and eliminate each character in turn. Mindhunters borrows and updates Christie's premise, making the characters trainees in the FBI's psychological profiling program ("profilers" are expected to generate unique insights into the minds and behaviors of serial killers), but otherwise keeps the serial killer and the isolated island location present in Christie's novel. With a perfunctory script by Wayne Kramer and Kevin Brodbin, it’s no surprise that the characters are mostly serial killer fodder. The profilers-in-training are generic, given minimal backstories (if at all), defined by their physical appearances and one or two character traits (which makes it absurdly easy for the serial killer to trap them by exploiting their weaknesses).
"Mediocrity, thy name is Renny Harlin."
Mindhunters opens with Sara Moore (Kathryn Morris, TV’s Cold Case) and J.D. Reston (Christian Slater, in an extended cameo), FBI trainees, in mid-exercise. Failing the exercise (the audience is expected to believe and accept that two these two characters would make such simple, therefore inexcusable errors in judgment), the two, newly humbled agents, retire for the night. The next morning, their instructor, Jake Harris (Val Kilmer, slumming for a paycheck), informs them of their final training exercise: the entire class will be dropped off on an island, used for military exercises, for an entire weekend. There, the class will undergo testing, via a live simulation featuring the “Puppeteer,” a serial killer created by Harris for the simulation. The remainder of the generic team includes the wheelchair-bound Vince Sherman (Clifton Collins, Jr.), another female trainee, Nicole Willis (Patricia Velasquez), the brainy type, Bobby Whitman (Eion Bailey), Rage Perry (Will Kemp), a Brit who happens to be a U.S. citizen, Lucas Harper (Johnny Lee Miller), and Gabe Jensen (LL Cool J), a Philadelphia police officer tagging along as an "observer." These are, in short, thinly written, undernourished characters.
After an early surprise death on the island, the other characters die in reverse relation to their screen time. The characters are simply props, meant to remain in the background, utter an occasional banal line of dialogue, and, at the appropriate time, meet a gory death. Given that only one character has a backstory or a character arc (from self-doubt to self-confidence), it’s relatively easy to pick the protagonist. Picking the serial killer is a bit harder, although the hints are there, thanks to a series of feints and misdirection in the script (three different endings were filmed, each picking a different killer). In fact, given the unimaginative, paltry kills (a staple of the slasher genre), and the underdeveloped characters, interest in Mindhunters is strictly limited to playing a guessing game with the serial killer’s identity.
With the exception of LL Cool J, and to a lesser extent, Kathryn Morris, and Clifton Collins, Jr., the actors barely register in their roles as the best and the brightest the FBI has to offer. Johnny Lee Miller, a British actor best known in the United States for his roles in Trainspotting and Hackers, is forced to adopt a ridiculous Texas accent (he fails miserably). Christian Slater is no different from any other role he’s had in the last ten years, Val Kilmer seems to be suffering from a cold in his scenes, and the other actors simply hits their marks, wait for the killer to strike, and pick up their paychecks on their way off the studio backlot (most likely, never to be heard from again).Not surprisingly, Renny Harlin shows little ability to construct suspense sequences (he’s limited to misdirection or shocks cuts), although his cinematographer, Robert Gantz, ably captures the darkened interior spaces where most of the film takes place with technical proficiency. Recommended only for the truly bored or the undemanding (you know who you are), and only on DVD (if you can avoid paying outright for the rental, via a "Netflix"-like service).
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originally posted: 05/31/05 20:55:17