- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2007

Some rotten movies go south quickly. Others begin with a bang but soon slink toward “Gigli-ville.” “Mr. Brooks” gets it wrong in the opening seconds.

The new thriller, featuring Kevin Costner as a mild-mannered serial killer, uses title cards to announce the main character’s state of mind before any image appears.

Right away we’re scratching our heads. Shouldn’t a film show Mr. Brooks’ intentions without any narrative cheats?

That said, the film’s setup isn’t bad, at least on paper. Our Mr. Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner) is an entrepreneur by day and a reluctant serial killer at night, egged on by a split personality who comes to life in the shape of a bored William Hurt.

Earl drops in on the occasional AA meeting to curb his desires, but like many addicts he’s prone to relapse.

And with Mr. Hurt’s alter ego spurring him on, he can’t stay sane for long.

When he finally returns to his killing ways, he bungles the crime by leaving the victims’ drapes wide open.

Enter Mr. Smith (Dane Cook), an amateur photographer who snapped pictures of Earl in the act from a building across the street.

But Mr. Smith isn’t interested in turning Earl in. He wants to watch Earl kill someone else. Both men get an almost orgasmic pleasure from watching people die. Their meeting forges an unholy alliance based on perverted longing and distrust.

Mr. Brooks’ latest murder gets the attention of a hotshot detective named Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore) who has been hunting Earl for years. She’s busy fending off her ex-husband’s settlement request, but she’s still sharp enough to pluck clues from thin air and turn hunches into major breaks. Miss Moore’s character also can knock down a door with her foot, outgun a pair of fugitives and overpower her larger male partner.

Earl doesn’t stand a chance.

Good thing that very little in “Mr. Brooks” adds up, letting Earl kill at will.

“Mr. Brooks” wants to be a black comedy in “American Psycho’s” bloody footprints, but it’s never intentionally funny, and the characters operate in wildly unrealistic ways.

Director/co-writer Bruce A. Evans (1992’s “Kuffs”) never demonstrates any control over such unwieldy material. The actors can’t decide whether to camp it up or play it straight, and they’re left giving some of the worst performances of their careers.

Mr. Cook’s attempt to branch out from comedy is a minor exception. He’s engaging at times, but he’s too likable to be believable as such a depraved soul.

“Mr. Brooks” is that rare film these days to employ three older actors whose greatest fame likely lies behind them. This film won’t make getting their next gigs any easier.

*1/2

TITLE: “Mr. Brooks”

RATING: R (Nudity, sexual situations, violence, disturbing images and adult language)

CREDITS: Directed by Bruce A. Evans. Written by Mr. Evans and Raynold Gideon.

RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes

WEB SITE: www.theres somethingaboutmrbrooks. com/main.htm

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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