For a boilerplate thriller starring the redoubtable Kevin Costner, this is a minor miracle. It’s not that Costner hasn’t made plenty of good (or even great) films. He has — some of them recently. It’s just that his choices aren’t exactly adventurous, and he doesn’t exactly span a wide range. Serial killers and thrillers, however, are such enduring (and endearing) guilty pleasures because when done properly, they are wonderfully entertaining. This one is done well, despite a plot that falls apart as it spirals into implausibility. In the hands of Bruce Evans, there are only a few more high points than low.
Costner plays the title character as an Everyman who just happens to appreciate murder as performance art. It’s not a new concept to have an audience root for a violent killer. There have been psychopathic protagonists stretching back through film history, not just to Hannibal Lecter but at least as far as Paul Muni in “Scarface.”
Brooks’ activities meet with two unique complications. One comes in the form of an invisible alter ego accompanying him (played devilishly by William Hurt). The other takes the form of an accidental witness who desires Brooks’ tutelage (played by comedian Dane Cook, showing more aptitude for drama than he ever has for comedy). As Brooks’ wife, Emma, a radiant Marg Helgenberger struggles with the sketchy role written for her. The presence of a seemingly distracted Demi Moore, playing the cop on the case of Brooks’ latest murder whilst plodding through marital problems, adds little.
In short, although there’s nothing here we haven’t seen before, it’s still enjoyable, most especially the character and performance of William Hurt. Without Hurt’s devil-on-the-shoulder acting as counterweight to Costner’s boy-next-door, red-cheeked, all-American serial killer, this film would be as trite and flat as yesterday’s newspaper.