Mr. Brooks is classic studio-based counter-programming. Dropped smack in the middle of a virtual fete of blockbusters, it’s an unusual blend of suspense, drama and camp - but clearly MGM is betting that you’d like to go to the movies and watch more than ogres, spiders, pirates, transformers and boy wizards. And they’ve anted up well, mixing a truly original central conceit with brand-name actors like Kevin Costner, Demi Moore and William Hurt. I’m guessing the bet will pay off: "Mr. Brooks" is an entertaining movie that cleverly walks the line between invention and affectation - and even if we don’t believe it’s a reasonable film, it’s still more than reasonably fun.
Costner plays Earl Brooks, CEO of a box-making company, philanthropist, and addicted serial killer. By that last phrase I don’t mean he’s addicted to some vice that makes him murder innocent people - instead, he’s addicted to the killing itself, and when he’s not on a spree, he’s at 12-step recovery sessions where he introduces himself as an "addict" and vows to not do it again. That’s not easy, of course, when his alterego/conscience (William Hurt) appears to him, alternatively egging on his criminal activities and judging his botched attempts to quell his homicidal tendencies. This internal game continues unmolested until Mr. Brooks gets too cocky and one of his outings is witnessed by "Mr. Smith" (Dane Cook) - who falls for the thrill of the kill and begs to be taken on as an apprentice. The confusion that results undermines Mr. Brooks’ carefully-crafted anonymity, drawing the attention of Detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore), who gives chase to the "thumbprint killer."
Other sub-plots abound: Mr. Brooks’ love for his wife and daughter, his extraordinary morality in the face of his own crimes, Tracy’s legal difficulties with an impending divorce, and more. They interlock appropriately by the end of the film - which coincidentally provides the requisite twists and turns. Along the way, director Bruce A. Evans offers up currents of film noir, black comedy, family drama and the leering, twisted sensibilities of "Saw."
Costner’s been too absent from movies as of late; he’s in terrific form as he realizes this extraordinarily complex character, and the wonderfully snide interplay between him and Hurt manages to make this psychopath more than comprehensible - he’s likable. Moore isn’t given all the much to do emotionally, but she’s believable as the determined cop. Cook, whose deadpan delivery evokes the bulk of the laughter, is effective, even if it doesn’t look as if he’s working all that hard.
"Mr. Brooks" appeals on an even baser level, however - it begs the question of mortal accountability, suggesting that even the most perfect crime leaves prints on the soul, and hinting that societal deviance is a trait whose genesis is just as complex as the clues to the crime. When combined with effective plotting and exception performances, that suggestion is devilishly fun to explore.
Mr. Brooks :: Kevin Costner
Tracy Atwood :: Demi Moore
Mr. Smith :: Dane Cook
Marshall :: William Hurt
Emma Brooks :: Marg Helgenberger
Hawkins :: Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Jane Brooks :: Danielle Panabaker
Nancy Hart :: Aisha Hinds
Lister :: Lindsay Crouse
Jesse Vialo :: Jason Lewis
Jesse's Lawyer :: Reiko Aylesworth
Meeks :: Matt Schulze
Sunday :: Yasmine Delawari
Atwood's Lawyer :: Michael Cole
Det. Carfagno :: Kit Gwin
Writer, Bruce A. Evans; Producer, Raynold Gideon; Producer, Kevin Costner; Producer, Jim Wilson; Cinematographer, John Lindley; Film Editor, Miklos Wright; Original Music, Ramin Djawadi; Executive Producer, Sam Nazarian; Executive Producer, Adam Rosenfelt; Executive Producer, Marc Schaberg; Executive Producer, Thomas Augsberger; Production Design, Jeffrey Beecroft; Costume Designer, Judianna Makovsky; Casting, Mindy Marin; Art Direction, William Skinner; Set Decoration, Anne Kuljian.