MindhuntersReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 05/13/05 00:26:16
As the end credits to the long-on-the-shelf “Mindhunters” rolled, I began talking with a colleague of mine and claimed, with my usual sense of restraint, that it was perhaps the single dumbest and most implausible thriller that I had ever seen in my life. The colleague, on the other hand, suggested that perhaps I was going a bit overboard and pointed out that I had said much the same thing after sitting through the similarly idiotic “Identity” a couple of years earlier. My point, however, was that “Mindhunters” was far worse because it was far more idiotic than “Identity” ever dared to be. That film was just a generically bad thriller for the first two-thirds, until it sprang its impossible-to-swallow plot twist that sent it completely over the edge while “Mindhunters” features moments of equally show-stopping stupidity in every other scene–so stupid, in fact, that even those who might show up simply to revel in its idiocies may find it to be too much of a good/bad thing to be believed.Like “Identity,” “Mindhunters” is an uneasy mash-up between a serial-killer mystery, in which people desperately try to piece together a series of seemingly unrelated clues to discover the identity of a madman before he strikes again, and a mad-slasher epic, in which characters pop up only to be killed off in gruesomely elaborate ways. This time around, the victims and the investigators are one and the same–a group of FBI profiler trainees sent to an isolated island training facility for a weekend exercise in which they will attempt to identify and track down a “serial killer” in a set-up devised by their unorthodox teacher (Val Kilmer). Unfortunately for them, it turns out that there is a genuine killer amongst them who begins to pick them off one by one. Before long, the film turns into an extra-long, extra-gory episode of one of those cop dramas that are all the rage on the tube these days–call it “CSI: Camp Crystal Lake.” (To add to that perception, one of the investigators is played by Kathryn Morris, who also plays a similar role on “Cold Case.”)
While I do not claim to be a trainee profiler, it would seem to me that, given the circumstances, the best way for the group to survive is to form an airtight buddy system in which no one leaves the eyesight of the others. Nevertheless, this group (which includes Christian Slater, Jonny Lee Miller, Patricia Velasquez and the artist formerly known as LL Cool J) regularly splits up for no other reason than to allow themselves to fall victim to an increasingly elaborate series of gory traps in which such elements as liquid nitrogen, crossbow bolts, dominoes and tainted cigarettes are deployed. The killer is so fiendishly clever, though, that he or she is not only able to rig up such labor-intensive traps in a heartbeat but is able to know exactly where a person will be standing at any given moment in order to properly receive them. Although we are supposed to believe that the killer is doing this because of a deep and innate knowledge of the group and their various character flaws and weaknesses, it seems more likely that the killer got a hold of the screenplay to the film and was able to adjust his calculations accordingly.
That, by the way, is the kind of narrative gambit that I could probably accept from the likes of Spike Jonze or even Mel Brooks, if he were to do a lampoon of the post-“Seven” vogue for serial killer sagas, but not from Renny Harlin, the auteur of “The Long Kiss Goodnight” and “Deep Blue Sea.” Back in his heyday in the early 1990's, Harlin’s taste for mixing weirdo humor and brutal violence in an over-the-top action context yielded such guilty pleasures as “Die Hard 2,” “Cliffhanger” and even, God forgive me, “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane.” Times have changed, however, but his basic style certainly hasn’t and since there is only so much that one can do with only a couple of locations and a few actors (unless it is a one-man show, you should always fear any film where there are more credited producers than featured performers in the IMDB cast listing),he is forced to rely more on the Wayne Kramer/Kevin Brodbin screenplay to keep things moving along. Unfortunately for him, it is one of the dumber thriller screenplays to come along in a while–the kind of script where people say things in terms just vague enough to make them look suspicious for a few minutes, the attempts at misdirection are so blatant that they all but point an on-screen arrow at the real killer and the killer is finally identified by a clever trick pulled by one of the investigators that is handled so clumsily that you begin to wonder why they bothered to introduce it in the first place.It all leads to a final scene in which the killer reveals themselves and explains how they have been pulling off their crimes and why. Without going into too many details, the speech raises many more question than it answers. How, for example, were they able to rig the elaborate domino set-up used to instigate the first murder? For that matter, why would they have chosen dominoes as a delivery system when you consider that if even one fell the wrong way, the entire scheme would have fallen apart? Most importantly, if the person was a stone-cold psycho who enjoys hunting down people for the sheer thrill of it, couldn’t he or she have found a slightly more time-effective method of doing so than by staging the kind of elaborate mousetraps that even Rube Goldberg might have found excessive? Then again, if those involved with “Mindhunters” were concerned about not wasting precious time on a fairly pointless endeavor, they wouldn’t have signed up for the film I the first place.
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