This review was written for the theatrical release of "Mr. Brooks."
Pushing coincidence and exaggeration to the point of near comic absurdity, "Mr. Brooks" begins as a steely cool examination of an unlikely serial killer, but it quickly tumbles off that edge into a quagmire of plot gimmicks and writer's tricks. "Brooks" is the second directing gig by screenwriter Bruce A. Evans ("Stand by Me") from a script he wrote with his longtime partner Raynold Gideon. These two are fine studio writers, but, unleashed from the shackles of the studio development system, they succumb to an urge to explore the dark side of life yet do so without dramatic logic or, for that matter, a moral compass.
The film feels sleazy and nasty -- but without the pulp kick of filmmakers who know how to do sleazy and nasty. The two key roles, wallowing in obsession and ambiguity, were superficially juicy enough to attract Kevin Costner (who even produces) and Demi Moore. But they have little to play: The characters are the equivalent of junkies who plunge needles into their veins over and over without the movie giving any reason for the compulsive, self-destructive behavior.
Fans might show up at theaters, but such roles are the kind likely to reduce that fan base. As counterprogramming to the summer silly season, this adult thriller might attract a decent turnout for a couple of weeks, after which the film will become a DVD curio.
Evans' serial killer, Earl Brooks (Costner), isn't just an ordinary guy with a secret life but Portland's Man of the Year in honor of his civic and philanthropic activities. And not just any philanthropist/serial killer but one with his own stalker, a peeping Tom photographer (Dane Cook) who saw him butcher a naked couple having sex, and a daughter (Danielle Panabaker) who comes home from college with a hatchet murder on her resume.
Evans' bulldog police detective Tracy Atwood (Moore) isn't just any ordinary cop but a $60 million heiress who undertakes police work as a hobby. And not just any detective/heiress but one with a nasty divorce that threatens her career and a deranged killer newly escaped from prison who vows revenge against her for putting him away.
Now would you believe that Brooks' stalker doesn't want to turn him into the police but rather wants to go along on his next kill? No? Well, would you believe that the serial killer just happens to spot the deranged killer and his tough-as-nails girlfriend at a convenience store so he can set in motion a plan to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak?
Clearly, this is one busy story but one that never digs beneath the surface in search of motives or insight. Brooks has an alter ego named Marshall who is personified by William Hurt. Marshall plays Id to Brooks' weak Superego, always urging him to be bad and enjoy the ride. The two discuss murder methods and the care to take so as to avoid getting caught. But they never really debate the merits of badness.
The film views the anti-hero's compulsion as an addiction. Brooks even attends AA meetings. And when his daughter gives in to her bloody impulses, he figures she has inherited his "disease." This is as far as any insight goes.
So all the film's characters, real or imagined, are either twisted or depraved save for the peripheral roles of wife (Marg Helgenberger) and cop sidekick (Ruben Santiago-Hudson). They aren't allowed to be very bright, though. One day our Mr. Brooks catches a plane for the Bay Area, performs a hatchet murder to cover up his daughter's tracks, flies back home and crawls into bed next to his wife. She thinks he has been downstairs the whole time playing with his pottery-making. Right.
The filmmaking is sleek and meticulous with well-upholstered sets and insistent mood music. It's all part of that conceit that a trash exploitation movie done with exquisite production values is somehow classy. It's not.
Eden Rock Media/ElementFilms/Relativity Media/Tig Prods.
Director: Bruce A. Evans
Screenwriters: Bruce A. Evans, Raynold Gideon
Producers: Jim Wilson, Kevin Costner, Raynold Gideon
Executive producers: Sam Nazarian, Adam Rosenfelt, Marc Schaberg, Thomas Augsberger
Director of photography: John Lindley
Production designer: Jeffrey Beecroft
Music: Ramin Djawadi
Costume designer: Judianna Makovsky
Editor: Miklos Wright
Earl Brooks: Kevin Costner
Detective Tracy Atwood: Demi Moore
Mr. Smith: Dane Cook
Marshall: William Hurt
Emma Brooks: Marg Helgenberger
Hawkins: Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Jane: Danielle Panabaker
Running time -- 120 minutes
MPAA rating: R