Most of the time I am in total agreement with Rotten Tomatoes. Until this week, the only other rating I ever disagreed with was Cowboys and Aliens, an underrated action extravaganza. This week brought a new disagreement: the 2016 film Criminal has an audience score of 50 and a critics score of 30. Now admittedly, it is not the world’s best film. It wasn’t trying for great drama. It was trying to be an exciting cross-genre thriller, and it succeeded. It doesn’t deserve the critic’s hate nor an audiences’ avoidance for it’s low approval rating. Criminal is a movie that has a lot going for it.
First, it has several brilliant concepts. The primary idea is that procedures and set rules exist for transferring one person’s memories into another person. A lesser movie would have just shown the process without any attempt at explanation. Even movies that would have explained the science wouldn’t have based the plot around the science explained for the film. In Criminal the science is integral to the plot: what’s needed is a person with an underdeveloped frontal lobe, and the transfer is for a restricted term. It’s a science-driven science fiction film.
Another main concept derives from the first. That person with an underdeveloped frontal lobe would be a sociopath. Giving them the memories of a spy would make them much more dangerous. In fact, when Jericho, the protagonist/memory recipient, is equipped with CIA training, he’s easily able to overpower highly trained bad guys.
It’s also significant that Criminal has a phenomenal cast of A-list actors who gave noteworthy performances. Kevin Costner and Gal Gadot were both compelling and entertaining. Costner’s role was one of the more interesting of his career. Tommy Lee Jones’s performance was on-point, although he had little screen time.
It would be a mistake to try and compare Criminal to films like The Departed or Mad Max Fury Road. The film is not a thought piece. Criminal is a fun and enjoyable thriller for people who like action movies.