Running time: 120 minutes
Directed by: Bruce Evans
Written by: Bruce Evans and Raynold Gideon
Starring: Kevin Costner, William Hurt, Demi Moore, Dane Cook
For talented, imaginative actors who aren’t afraid of taking risks, there’s no disgrace in an occasional honorable failure, but Kevin Costner is having entirely too many downright flops to suit me. He’s gifted, appealing and anxious to try new ideas, so what in the name of Hollywood hokum is he doing in a daft, hopped-up piece of “Say huh?” like Mr. Brooks? If Mr. Costner wasn’t the star (as well as producer), I’d say this movie comes pretty darn close to my definition of unreleasable.
Let’s see if I got this straight. Attractively entering middle age and no longer a scruffy cowboy, wolf trapper, science-fiction Waterworld survivor or Robin Hood, Mr. Costner now plays a man with a double life. By day he’s a respectable, clean-cut, immaculately groomed Portland, Ore., businessman, community leader and model husband, father and Brooks Brothers customer named Earl Brooks. By night, he’s a heartless, savage, cold-blooded, poker-faced serial killer called the Thumbprint Killer, who slaughters people for no reason except that he thinks violent death is a cool addiction, like blackjack, Starbucks lattes or cell phones. Philanthropist, neighborhood hottie and Portland’s Man of the Year, Mr. Brooks has got everything, including what he calls an incurable “hunger in the brain” to be a homicidal maniac. To this end, he even has a make-believe smart-ass alter ego named Marshall (William Hurt) who appears in rearview mirrors to pick his victims and egg him on. Sometimes, when Mr. Brooks thinks about giving it all up, the enigmatic Marshall goes ballistic—I mean, without all that blood and forensics-lab tissue, he would be out of a job. So they plunge on, observing their victims with almost boyish curiosity, cocking their heads at odd angles to take in the penetration of the knives and bullets. Never careless, Mr. Brooks plans and executes his devilish deeds with precision, rearranging the crime scenes to cover his traces, retrieving the slugs and fitting patterns with such enviable ingenuity that he becomes the primary obsession of a cynical lady detective (Demi Moore) who follows his every move with more attention than she pays to her personal life. Now, suddenly, Mr. Brooks makes his first tactical error: Someone has photographed him standing in an open window at one of his murder scenes, and all hell is about to break loose.
Here’s the exasperating, unforgivable rub. For the first hour, Mr. Brooks is a movie with real potential. The idea of a dedicated serial killer who can’t get his work done because his domestic life keeps interfering with his career is pretty damned fascinating stuff. But then the movie self-destructs in such a plethora of tangential characters, loopy plot twists and annoyingly mixed-up film genres that it goes from grim and gripping to silly and surreal. Mr. Costner works hard, but what in the hell is this movie about? The invisible-alter-ego idea runs out of steam fast thanks to William Hurt’s overacting, and now Mr. Brooks is stalked by the equally irritating photographer, who longs to be a serial killer himself. Instead of blackmail, he strong-arms Mr. Brooks into teaching him the ropes. Dane Cook, a comedian with the personality of a pit bull, who is to acting what clabber is to cows, turns the movie into a screech match of nerves and noise. Meanwhile, in addition to the alter ego, the meddlesome new protégé and a morgue full of gruesome corpses, two more serial killers called the Hangman Killers arrive to wipe out Demi Moore, hopelessly miscast as the cop who is so independently wealthy that she doesn’t need the money, but who is much nastier than all of the real monsters put together. Suddenly, Mr. Brooks and his lovely wife (the great, underrated and criminally wasted Marg Helgenberger) face a new nightmare: Their teenage daughter drops out of college, pregnant and a suspected campus serial killer herself. Does it run in the family? Is mayhem contagious? Didn’t anyone see The Bad Seed, the movie that was hooted off the screen for hinting that homicidal genes can be inherited, like freckles?
I am still a Kevin Costner fan, and he’s a much smarter filmmaker than Mr. Brooks’ mediocre director, Bruce Evans. In fact, this whole movie might have had a focus it doesn’t have now if Mr. Costner had only given up the impossible task of trying to breathe life into a pointless character and directed it instead. Some excellent film-noir cinematography and one-half of a script that holds interest and keeps you guessing is not bad. But by the end, there are so many serial killers running amok that I didn’t know if I was watching a horror film or a comedy. There are laughs—all accidental—but the audience around me was moaning in agony. And please don’t tell me it was supposed to be played for laughs all along, because I don’t buy it. Too late to save it from doom, the twists and snafus in Mr. Brooks start coming too fast for the audience to absorb, and the movie turns delusional. Quite a baffling experience, if you ask me.