It's hard to say what director/coscreenwriter Bruce A. Evans and his writing partner, Raynold Gideon, thought they were making. A sleazy thriller with a sufficiently slick veneer to convince snooty moviegoers that it's not really just direct-to-DVD exploitation with a better cast? A sympathetic portrait of a middle-aged murder junkie trying to 12-step his way out of compulsive killing? A pitch-black comedy about the culture of "it's not my fault, it's my addiction"? Whatever they had in mind, the end result is a not-bloody-enough mess.
Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner, also a producer) is a loving husband to supportive wife Emma (Marg Helgenberger), a devoted father to flaky college student Jane (Danielle Panabaker) and Portland, Oregon's man of the year. His custom-cardboard-packaging company is flourishing, he has a gorgeous home, and in his spare time he makes pottery a little tinkering with exotic glazes is just the thing to shake off a tough day at the office. He's too good to be true… literally. And no, he's not the alcoholic he declares himself to be at AA meetings. The real monkey on Brooks' back is bloodlust, and his naughty alter-ego Marshall (William Hurt) never stops nagging him to give in to it. And on the night of his man-of-the-year award dinner, Earl gives in after two years of "sobriety." Unfortunately, the very attractive young couple he kills are under surveillance by a creepy peeping tom, so Earl suddenly has a blackmailer who calls himself "Mr. Smith" (Dane Cook) in his life. Scruffy, impatient Mr. Smith doesn't want money he wants in on the thrill-kill action. "Even if that guy was charming and funny, I still wouldn't like him," seethes Marshall, and to give the devil on Earl's shoulder his due, he's got a point.
Jane just dropped out of college, claiming that she's pregnant and wants to enter the family business while neglecting to mention the hatchet murder on campus: Could she be a chip off the old block? Meanwhile, tough-talking police detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore) recognizes the work of the "Thumbprint Killer" she's been tracking for years, and really, really wants to bring him down. Detective Atwood also has a whole lot going on: Her soon-to-be ex-husband, boy-toy restaurateur Jesse (Jason Lewis), is trying to take her to the cleaners not for her city cop's salary, but for the $64 million her bad dad left her while a serial psycho Atwood put away, "Hangman" Meeks (Matt Schulze), just busted out of jail and is looking for revenge. There's more, but it's not really worth delving further into the ridiculous convolutions: Suffice it to say that the whole business plays like RED DRAGON reimagined by filmmakers who think they're too smart or too sophisticated or too high-minded to give themselves over to the sordid, sleazy and flat-out nasty. There's no meat on this film's borrowed bones: They're polished to an exquisitely tasteful shine, but efforts to class up exploitation are pointless. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh