Though played mostly straight – and, indeed, littered with video nasty-style grim ultra-violence – there’s a possibility that this wild espionage/science fiction thriller is a deadpan skit. For a start, the script by Douglas Cook and David Weisberg (The Rock) is littered with characters with names like ‘Quaker Wells, CIA Section Chief’ and ‘Hagbardaka Heimdahl, Spanish Anarchist’. In Self/Less, Ben Kingsley took an early bath to be rejuvenated into Ryan Reynolds … here, callow Reynolds is written out early but has significant parts of his personality transplanted into weathered antihero Kevin Costner.
London-based CIA agent Bill Pope (Reynolds) gets killed before he can tell his boss where he’s stashed a Dutch hacker genius (Michael Pitts) who has developed a cheat code for the US nuclear arsenal that anti-authoritarian mobile phone millionaire Hemindal wants to use to wreck everything. In a premise that recalls Curt Sidomak’s s-f novels (Donovan’s Brain, Hauser’s Memory), Dr Franks (Tommy Lee Jones) – another post-modern prometheus, we assume – maps Pope’s brain and injects significant memories into brain-damaged lifer sociopath Jericho Stewart (Costner). Escaping from the good guys, Jericho chases around London being a violent bastard (intimidating folk in a kebab shop, stealing a white van) until Bill’s happy memories of lovely wife Jill (Gal Gadot) and token kid overwhelm him and he turns into an unstoppable hero who is out to rescue the girl and defeat the baddie (Jordi Molla).
The distinguished cast includes Antje Traue as another terrorist minion (as in Man of Steel), Alice Eve as an agent who is there to dish out exposition and get shot, Colin Salmon as the warning-issuing warden and Gary Oldman as the crusty section chief. Part of the fun is that, though this could as easily have been set in Paris, Tokyo or Berlin, it’s wound up as a British-US co-production. There’s a semi-surreal charge to seeing Costner, Reynolds & Co dashing about an oddly reconfigured London in black cabs, hopping on and off red buses (with nary an Oyster card in sight), hiding valuable mcguffin stuff behind a stack of George Orwell first editions in a university library, getting into car chases with the Metropolitan police (several bobbies are horribly burned to death in car crashes but the CIA just shrug that off as minor eccentricity) and facing up to yobs who could have walked off The Bill into confrontations with Hollywood legends.
Jericho is particularly suited to having Bill’s memories grafted on because a childhood injury has left the part of his brain he might use for having empathy undeveloped, and the result of the operation is a Frankensteinian monster who stumbles around London, sometimes using his own sociopath superpowers to get stuff without paying and sometimes drawing on Bill’s Jason Bourney CIA skills. Costner might have hoped for a Taken/John Wick late-career resurgence in an action franchise – though the sequel hook punchline is probably wildly optimistic. It’s the sort of nonsense that shows up the inadequacy of reviews that rely on star ratings – it fully earns its low marks but it’s mostly entertaining with some possible cult potential. However, the whole sub-plot about Bill’s tiresomely imperilled family – Gadot looks lovely, but is stuck with the sort of hostage role she’ll never have to play again if Wonder Woman is a hit – might have been grafted in from the cheapest direct-to-DVD hardman movie. Directed by Ariel Vroemen (The Iceman).