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Previous Weekends’ Movies: “Mr. Brooks”

July 5, 2007

Mr. Brooks Kevin Costner plays Earl Brooks—successful businessman, loving father, devoted husband, and prolific serial killer. Earl is a decent enough sort, but when the urge to kill seizes him, he cannot resist its sweet draw. This compulsion is embodied by an eeeevil alter-ego named Marshall, who is played by William Hurt. Earl seeks to control his murderous impulses, while Marshall goads him on to more acts of violence and brutality.

One evening, while giving in to Marshall’s urgings and dispatching a couple in the midst of sex, Earl is spotted by amateur-photographer and all-around voyeur Dane Cook. Cook blackmails him with photos of the crime in exchange for Earl’s tutelage in the ways of killing. Seems Cook is a bit of a serial-killer enthusiast and wishes to graduate from peeping on the neighbors to wearing their skin as a toga. Earl finds himself cornered between his conscience and his black impulses; his morality and the blackmail machinations of a wanna-be monster.

On the domestic front, Earl’s college-aged daughter seems to be hiding a dark secret that Earl suspects is linked to the murders that have occurred near her school. Has he passed his murderousness on to her? And if so, who will be her next victim?

And he’s also being stalked by a coolly-expert serial killer hunter played by the titanium-forged Demi Moore. Seems Earl didn’t leave that last crime scene as pristine as he thought, and now he has a dogged adversary closing in.

Moore’s detective, meanwhile, is being stalked by a serial killer she put behind bars a few years back, and he is keeping very close tabs on her…

Meanwhile, a group of renegade Mormons have sent an assault team to the Pacific Northwest. Armed with genetically engineered, super-intelligent cloned dinosaurs they seek nothing less than complete destruction of America’s coffee industry.

OK, that last plotline wasn’t actually in the movie, but for all I know it ended up on the cutting-room floor with a half-dozen other discarded subplots. Needless to say, Mr. Brooks is the definition of “overstuffed,” but to his credit writer/director Bruce Evans makes a valiant effort to bring all these plotlines together in a coherent conclusion. He fails rather spectacularly, but at least the movie is never dull, even if it’s never quite good either.

The main problem with Mr. Brooks isn’t its myriad plotlines, but sheer stupidity with which they are imagined. First off, the main storyline—Earl’s struggle with himself—more or less blows up on the launch pad. I’m not a psychotherapist, but I’m pretty sure that the psychopathology that compels serial killers to murder is not equivalent to chemical addition. This is would seem to be a no-brainer for everyone except Evans. Instead the writer/director treats Earl’s trips to AA and his recitations of the Serenity Prayer with such a straight face that you can’t help but wonder if the guy’s ever seen an episode of “American Justice,” let alone done any research on killers or killing.

With this little Jenga-piece of the plot compromised, much of the rest topples. William Hurt is great as Marshall, having made the transition from pretentious serious actor in the ’80s to engaging character actor, and his scenes with Costner are the best in the movie. Problem is, the internal logic of his character is befuddling. What are his scenes with Costner supposed to be? Are they mental dialogues? If so, why is Earl’s devil’s advocate anthropomorphized as William Hurt? Is Earl suffering from multiple personality disorder? But wait, it’s not another personality committing the crimes, just whispering in his ear. What the hell is William Hurt supposed to be?

Evans’s mangling of psychological disorder truly goes off the charts with the daughter subplot. Revealed to be a serial-killer-in-the-making, Earl frets and sobs over “giving her what I have.” So, apparently a murderous pathology is not only an addiction but also genetic, like green eyes or Huntington’s Disease. Evans attempts to ratchet up the suspense by having Marshall posit the theory that the daughter may be plotting to murder Earl in order to take over his self-made packaging industry. Because becoming president of a box-factory is what every 19 year-old girl dreams of. And how exactly would she “take over” the business by offing dear old dad? Is the packaging industry run by the Klingon Empire?

Demi Moore’s subplot is the most threadbare, but it feels like filler anyway. More likely, once the producers landed Moore they knew they’d have to beef up the role. It’s still anemic, but that’s fine since Moore mostly acts with a determined gaze and a low-level irritation. This is hardly surprising, since she really stopped acting after Striptease. Moore made a splash a couples years ago with Charlie’s Angels 2 when she went bod-to-bod with a trio of women young enough to be her boyfriend, and she hasn’t let herself go in the intervening years. Still ridiculously buffed, her body is stark and functional. She doesn’t show an ounce of fat, a disproportionate curve, a single line on her face. She’s more like an attack jet than a human being.

Dane Cook is in the movie too. I didn’t pay much attention, and doubt I missed much.

The film doesn’t really rush to its conclusion as it staggers and lurches under the weight of its machinations, stumbling occasionally over the assorted action sequence. The conclusion tries to be clever, but isn’t, and tries to end on a chilling note but once again executes it so poorly it’s merely laughable. Well, if it’s nothing else, the movie’s consistent.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: This is Costner’s latest attempt to play a darker character and bury the All-American Guy role that people actually liked him in. Previous attempts have included Waterworld, A Perfect World, and 3000 Miles to Vegas. All things considered, we got off easy with this one.

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