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4 reviews, 26 user ratings

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Mr. Brooks
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Finally--A Summer Film That Is A Pleasant Surprise"
4 stars

Whether you love or hate the new thriller “Mr. Brooks”–and I assure this is not the kind of movie for which there will be anything resembling a middle ground–you will no doubt walk away from it in admiration of its sheer nerve, if nothing else. This is one of those rare films that starts off on such an audaciously weird note that you assume to yourself that it can’t possibly continue to up the ante and then you stare in amazement as it proceeds to do just that for virtually the entire running time. Although the notion of seeing yet another serial killer extravaganza may not exactly inspire joy and delight in most moviegoers these days, they are likely to find themselves blindsided by the numerous twists and turns that the screenplay has in store for them and after the concluding scene (not counting a highly expendable final moment that I will rail about later), even the most jaded viewer is likely to find themselves more or less poleaxed by what they have just seen.

Kevin Costner stars as Earl Brooks, a successful Portland businessman with a beautiful wife (Marg Helgenberger), a daughter (Danielle Panabaker) off at college, a palatial home and a thriving box-manufacturing company. It turns out–and no, I am not spoiling anything with this particular revelation–that Earl is also a cunning, devious and intelligent serial killer who is driven by his subconscious, in the form of a murderous alter-ego known as Marshall (William Hurt), to murder strangers in a spree that has earned him the sobriquet “The Thumbprint Killer.” Although he has never come close to getting caught, killing is not something that Earl particularly likes to do–that is all Marshall–and for the last couple of years, he has kept his murderous urges at bay by attending AA meetings (where he tells his fellow members that he has “an addiction” and yes, addresses them by saying “My name is Earl”) and channeling himself towards his work and family. As the film opens, however, those old urges come roaring back after being lauded as Portland’s Man of the Year and, for what he swears will be the last time ever, Earl methodically finds a suitable couple, studies their moves and then slips out of his house in the middle of the night to kill them and destroys any possible trace that might lead investigators to him.

Well, almost any trace–in a rare bit of sloppiness, or perhaps a subliminal desire to be caught so that he can stop killing for good, Earl killed the couple in front of an open window where anyone could have caught him red-handed in the act. “Anyone” turns out to be an annoying young shutterbug punk known as Mr. Smith (Dane Cook) who took photos of the killing from his apartment across the street (it turns out that the dead couple were exhibitionists) and has been able to identify Earl as the man in them thanks to the publicity surrounding the Man of the Year award. Surprisingly, Mr. Smith doesn’t want hush money and doesn’t want to go to the police–he wants Earl to bring him along for his next killing so that he can experience first-hand the rush that he assumes Earl gets from killing people. In order to buy some time, Earl agrees to the demand instead of simply killing him but this turns out to inspire other complications when detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore), a hotshot cop who led a previous investigation on the identity of the Thumbprint Killer a few years earlier, begins sniffing around and instantly surmises that Smith knows more about what happened to the couple across the street than he is letting on. If that weren’t enough, Earl’s daughter unexpectedly arrives home and announces that she has dropped out of Stanford and wants to follow in her father’s footsteps at the box factory–of course, it turns out that there is far more to her arrival than a simple desire to work with corrugated cardboard. At this point, I will abandon any further plot details except to mention the fact that everything I have recounted thus far occurs within the first half-hour and barely begins to scratch the surface of what the screenplay has in store.

In reading over what I have written thus far, I see that while I have done an adequate job of recounting the details of the plot, I have not yet conveyed the nutty nature in which they are presented to us and that is where “Mr. Brooks” really shines. I have seen more than my share of serial killer movies over the years but with the possible exception of some of Dario Argento’s more outre ventures into the genre, I can’t recall one in recent memory quite as cheerfully insane as this one. Unfortunately, I can’t really go into any detail on exactly how nutty it is because part of the deranged charm of the film is in seeing the events unfold before your sure-to-be-bulging eyeballs. How to convey this without spoiling the surprises? Okay, you know how William Burroughs used to take pieces of paper with words and phrases scribbled on them and randomly put them together into poetry? In putting together the screenplay for “Mr. Brooks,” co-writers Bruce Evans (who also directed, his first time serving in that capacity since 1992's “Kuffs,” a film most notable for having the good sense to include both Milla Jovovich and Ashley Judd in the same cast) & Raynold Gideon seem to have taken a similar approach–it feels as if they dynamited a screenplay factory and arranged the random scraps of paper blowing around in the aftermath. The result is a screenplay that throws so many plot tangents–including a second serial killer that both Costner and Moore find themselves tracking at various times–and wholly unexpected developments that it becomes almost impossible to even hazard a guess as to what weirdness could possibly come up next. And yet, with the exception of the material involving Moore’s character–who is also in the middle of a messy and potentially expensive divorce when she is not out tracking madmen–all of the various demented detours wind up paying off in strange and unexpected ways. (There is a certain implacable logic, for example, in the way that a series of events unfold in such a way that the ordinarily bloodthirsty Marshall finds himself in the unusual position of trying to convince better half Earl not to commit another murder.) Even when the story threatens to jump the tracks completely, which is quite often, the story somehow manages to keep it all together on the inside even as it is going stone crazy on the outside.

Another reason why I appreciated “Mr. Brooks” so much is that it doesn’t treat the audience as a bunch of dummies who need to have everything spoon-fed to them so that they can understand what is going on. Take the idea of the William Hurt character as a physical manifestation of Earl’s split personality–instead of offering us a laborious set-up to explain this particular conceit, the film just plunks him in the back seat of Earl’s car as he is driving home with his wife and leaves us to piece together who he is supposed to be. For that matter, the film is also refreshingly vague as to the reasons why Earl is compelled to kill–we don’t get a long sequence in which he explains how he was abused as a child or unloved by his parents or claptrap like that. Instead, the film unapologetically offers up a stone-cold sociopath as its main character and gets us to identify with him even as we are recoiling from his deeds.

At first glance, the notion of Kevin Costner playing a conflicted serial killer may not jibe with the heroic persona that he has carved out for himself over the years but if you think about it, many of his characters have had a certain darkness to them that threatens to boil over–I’m thinking of his roles in such films as “No Way Out,” “Revenge,” “A Perfect World” and “Open Range.” Earl Brooks is another character along those lines and Costner nails both sides of his personality head-on–watching him, we can fully believe that this amiable milk-drinking guy could also be capable of the most heinous crimes imaginable–and it is the most entertaining work that he has done in years. As his alter-ego, William Hurt is essentially doing a campier version of the malevolent vision of evil that he portrayed in “A History of Violence” but he tears into the role with such obvious relish that you will be too entertained to mind that much. Working together for the first time in their respective careers (not counting “The Big Chill,” of course), Costner and Hurt are an inspired team who wind up complementing each other in interesting ways that go a long way towards selling the two-sides-of-the-same-coin conceit that much of the film is based on–just the sight of the two of them sitting in a car working out a crossword puzzle is more fiendishly entertaining than the entirety of most of the current crop of blockbusters.

As for the other leads, Moore is okay but hampered by the knowledge that her character has no real reason for even existing. Her role is so extraneous, in fact, that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that her conventional character was insisted upon by studio executives nervous at the idea of having an unapologetic sociopath as the central character. In what I believe is the first deliberately unfunny performance of his career, Dane Cook doesn’t exactly reinvent his career in the way that Jim Carrey did with “The Truman Show” or “Man on the Moon” with the demonstration of his thespic chops. However, since he is supposed to be playing a character that is so vile and unlikable that we spend the entire film rooting for his hopefully gruesome demise, I guess that his work here can be considered a success after all.

“Mr. Brooks” is a hugely entertaining thriller that is perhaps the first pleasant surprise to hit moviegoers this summer but it does have one flaw that is significant enough to prevent me from giving it the maximum amount of stars–the final 90 seconds. Up until that point, the film has been moving along with a cool and intelligent precision that leads to a finale that offers up a major jolt to viewers–the same kind that they felt when Carrie’s hand popped out of the grave–while still remaining true to the intrinsic logic of the storyline. Having pulled off that considerable coup, the film immediately pisses it away by adding on a final final scene that essentially negates that incredibly effective moment. Obviously I wouldn’t dream of even suggesting what happens except to say that it ranks right down there with the final bit of “No Way Out” in terms of potential audience buzzkill. And yet, the rest of “Mr. Brooks” is so fiendishly exciting and inventive that not even that pointless moment can lessen the impact of the rest of the film. My suggestion is that you go to see the film and when you get to the part when you think that the story has found its perfect conclusion (you’ll know it when you see it), just close your eyes and ears and wait for the credits to roll.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15551&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/01/07 01:39:04
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User Comments

11/14/18 Anne 1/2 way thru got so bored; preposterous and didn't finish 2 stars
4/15/17 morris campbell solid serial killer movie solid performances 4 stars
4/16/16 arnmmwerp USA 3 stars
7/19/09 Abhishek Chakraborty The pure definition of a good psychological thriller.Totally believable and original story. 5 stars
3/28/09 Monday Morning Screw you, Shortt. Good twisty film, but Kostner's keister isn't what it used to be. 4 stars
3/20/08 Stephanie This movie was absoluetly amazing. Watching a second time cleared up any questions. 5 stars
2/14/08 JAL William Hurt was delightfully wicked! 4 stars
1/23/08 George Chabot Solid psychological thriller 4 stars
1/03/08 Closet Cock Costner is solid in a merely okay killer flick 3 stars
11/17/07 GCC Worth a look just for Hurt's performance/Costner good too though 4 stars
11/13/07 mike unique movie that kept my interests throughout. very surprised and pleased with this rental 5 stars
10/29/07 action movie fan fairly interesting but needed more suspense and explanation for mr brooks murder spree 3 stars
10/23/07 William Goss Cluttered, clumsy, and damn near campy serial killer bonanza. 2 stars
9/24/07 Danny Boy Totally captivating dark and very disturbing movie! Simply the best film I've seen in years 5 stars
8/21/07 samuel kick back, no brainer, wonderful, delightful entertainment..i liked it more than 'Lambs' 5 stars
8/04/07 Kelly Whitekiller Costner was very, very good. 4 stars
7/31/07 Daphne Sterling DMoore has too much history to be credible or likeable in roll, spoiling promising thriller 2 stars
7/02/07 laura bennett okay....cant really make a good scary movie today...but okay 4 stars
6/20/07 Ole Man Bourbon Expected Costner to say something about "the sreaming of the lambs," but good 4 stars
6/16/07 jcjs fine, entertaining, right on, fun, great acting, clever, real, lovely piece, masterpiece 5 stars
6/16/07 fools♫gold Doesn't go for the obvious ending. 5 stars
6/15/07 D Surprisingly good 4 stars
6/09/07 Reginald Lawrence Started of excellent but the left alot of loose ends that didn'nt make sense. 3 stars
6/04/07 PJK Costner carries it. 4 stars
6/02/07 Koitus Outside of the "too convenient STUDIO" - yes, this was a good movie! Intricately-laid plot 4 stars
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  01-Jun-2007 (R)
  DVD: 23-Oct-2007



[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Bruce A. Evans

Written by
  Bruce A. Evans
  Raynold Gideon

  Kevin Costner
  William Hurt
  Demi Moore
  Dane Cook

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