June 7, 2007

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Mr. Brooks (R)
Kevin Costner gets to cut loose with a bit of crazy-eyed lunacy in the delightfully cheesy Mr. Brooks, a psychological thriller that really seems better suited to late August than early June.

Late August, after all, is when the movies are dipped twice in cheese and then sprinkled with extra cheddar. In early June, who’s ready to watch a petulant id played by William Hurt hector his guilt-ridden yet still blood-lusting super ego (Costner)? You need a summer of uneven thrillers and bad horror behind you to truly appreciate such flamboyant camp.

You detect the scenery-chewing potential of Mr. Earl Brooks (Costner) at the very beginning when, as he prepares to accept the chamber of commerce’s man of the year award, he desperately says the serenity prayer to himself. After a night of soft-glow praise and a couple of kisses for his wife Emma (Marg Helgenberger), Mr. Brooks heads out to his studio — a place where he goes to glaze pots and to argue with Marshall (Hurt), his psychotic imaginary friend, about whether or not they should go kill people. Clearly, Marshall wins quite a bit because the studio is all tricked out with black outfits, an extra car and an evidence-catching plastic floor covering onto which Mr. Brooks can step onto when he returns from his night out. He vacuums the extra car, washes himself off, burns the clothes and even burns the photos he took of the couple Marshall gleefully talked him into murdering.

The next day, Mr. Brooks discovers his crimes weren’t as perfectly excuted as he’d hoped. Even though he left behind his usual markings — Detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore) tells us he’s called the Thumbprint Killer because of the two bloody thumbprints (from the victums) that he leaves in some visible spot — he’s also, unknown to him, left behind a witness. Mr. Smith (Dane Cook) is an amateur photographer who had been snapping pictures (through his window in an apartment building overlooking the couple’s open window) of the couple having sex just before Mr. Brooks killed them. He got everything, from the passionate embraces to Mr. Brooks’ angry expression as he closed the window. Far from feeling the need to go to the police, Mr. Smith discovers, on seeing the murder, that he has a bit of the Mr. Brooks in him. He asks (or rather, demands) that Mr. Brooks take him on his next murder.

“The next murder” becomes the central thread around which is woven subplots about Tracy and attempts to divorce her cheating husband, a second serial killer who has recently escaped from jail, Mr. Brooks’ desire to stop his killing (he off-and-on goes to AA meetings to get help for his “addiction”) and the sudden appearance of Mr. Brooks’ daughter (Danielle Panabaker), home early from college with secrets of her own. Though I suppose you have to fill your story with some kind of plot, none of these are particularly interesting — every single scene with Demi Moore is not only painful to watch but seems to be part of some other movie (one, for example, were we believe that a woman with millions in a trust fund would be a cop and yet still dress like a Prada model). And the movie makes us dislike the manipulative daughter from the start — her scenes seemed to drag and her “secrets” had me wishing for a fast-forward button.

But let’s say I had that fast-forward button. Mr. Brooks is a bad movie but given the ability to skip large chunks of it I just might watch it again. Kevin Costner is clearly enjoying his break from the mold of Costner Character A (goodhearted loner of Waterworld and Open Range) and Costner Characters B (goodhearted man of experience of Bull Durham and The Upside of Anger). The giddy, crazy-man laugh that Mr. Brooks and Marshall share is perhaps not as joyfully campy as Al Pacino’s wild eyebrowing in The Devil’s Advocate but it’s certainly equal in spirit. Costner is whiny, he’s angry, he’s a malevolent mustache-whirling, randomly deadly villain. (And, no, he doesn’t actually have a Snidely Whiplash mustache but he works his eyeglasses to similar effect.) There’s something gleefully, weirdly fun about this much stagey acting in this nutty a plot.

Just so we’re clear, I don’t recommend you spend money on Mr. Brooks or even let somebody else spend money for you to see Mr. Brooks. But someday when you see it on the USA Network, hit record on the DVR and step away for half an hour. When you come back, there’ll will be some mighty fine cheese cubes ready to be fast-forwarded to. C

Rated R for strong bloody violence, some graphic sexual content, nudity and language. Directed by Bruce A. Evans and written by Evans and Raynold Gideon, Mr. Brooks is two hours long and is distributed in wide release by MGM.