Retro Review: MR. BROOKS (2007){0}

If you’ve got a soft spot for trashy pulp thrillers like Malice, Arlington Rd., and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, then save a place in your weekend for Bruce Evans’ “Mr. Brooks,” a high-budget psycho-thriller that lets two of our more “sedate” leading men cut loose with some entertainingly juicy performances. The flick’s got a little fat on its bones, plus it wanders off in some really strange directions, but it’s also very well-shot, stuffed with a small handful of surprises, and (as nutty as it might get) the movie sure isn’t boring. As a “grown-ups” alternative to all the summer movie chaos out there, I’ve no problem at all recommending the flick.

Kevin Costner plays a wealthy box manufacturer called Earl Brooks. (Yes, I said “box manufacturer.”) Earl’s got a lovely wife (Marg Helgenberger), a pixie-cute teenage daughter (Danielle Panabaker), and all the spoils of life that anyone could ask for. Unfortunately Earl is also living a double life as the serial killer known as “The Thumbprint Killer.” He’d love to quit the killing game forever, but Earl has an imaginary friend called Marshall (William Hurt) — and Marshall really loves to murder people. Brooks/Marshall is a meticulous hobbyist: He never leaves a single clue behind. (He actually vacuums the crime scene … and then steals the vacuum bag!)

It’s been about two years since Earl’s last kill, but after offing a pair of dancers he’s photographed by a mysterious weirdo who asks to be called Mr. Smith (Dane Cook). But it’s not simple blackmail; Mr. Smith actually wants to go along for the ride and participate in a random slaying. Ah, and of course there’s the veteran “loose cannon” cop (Demi Moore) who’ll stop at nothing to bring the killer down. And for no logical reason, the “loose cannon” cop is going through a divorce subplot that seems arbitrary at first, but … like I said, it’s all very pulpy and convoluted, but there are a few bizarre touches (the cop is a multi-millionaire?) that keep the story moving colorfully along.

Director Bruce A. Evans, along with longtime screenwriting partner Raynold Gideon, keeps things moving with slick dialogue and unexpected plot contortions, and the flick certainly looks like a million bucks, but it’s the parade of semi-stunt casting that makes Mr. Brooks so much fun. Costner as a psycho? Interesting. William Hurt as a bloodthirsty alter ego? Sounds good. Dane Cook in a serious role as a rather disturbed sleazeball? Works like a charm. And Demi Moore as a millionaire mega-detective who brings a pair of bizarrely high-octane action scenes into what’s generally a pretty austere little psycho-thriller? That’s just the icing on the top.

Just as Evans and Gideon play with our preconceived notions of heroes and anti-heroes (should we even LIKE Costner’s character, let alone “root” for him?), Mr. Brooks is a movie that feels like it should be taken seriously … but not too seriously. As the myriad twists and turns pile up, the flick starts to feel more like a subtle satire than a straight-faced chiller, but hey, if you’re having a good time for two hours, does it really matter?