Mindhunters (2004) / Action-Mystery
MPAA Rated: R for language, nudity, sexuality and drug use
Running Time: 90 min.
Cast: Kathryn Morris, Jonny Lee Miller, LL Cool J, Clifton Collins Jr., Patricia Velasquez, Christian Slater, Eion Bailey, Will Kemp, Val Kilmer
Director: Renny Harlin
Screenplay: Wayne Kramer, Kevin Brodbin
Review published September 11, 2005
Call this Identity (or yet another take on Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians") for the action crowd, Mindhunters similarly gathers a group of attractive performers into an isolated environment, kills them off one by one, and doesn't let us know which among them is the killer (if any). Red herrings do abound, but personally speaking, I was able to accurately pick out the which of the group would be left standing at the finale, including the identity of the culprit. I'm no genius, mind you, and there were moments where I began to doubt my guess, but in the end, all ended up exactly as I surmised before the first victim was dispatched. Isn't it ironic that so-called clever thrillers are constructed to completely throw us and they fumble the ball when it comes to tossing in every cliché in the book?
The premise here surrounds a group of FBI profilers in training taken to a deserted island to for another lesson cooked up by their eccentric leader, Harris (Kilmer, The Salton Sea). The group find a dead body represented by a life-like mannequin and start to break down the clues as to the hows and whys, only to find that the area has been booby-trapped and one of them ends up dead. Knowing the game is deadly, the remainder of the profilers must solve the identity of the killer and how to avoid the elaborate traps set by this person that seems to have omniscience and infinite patience.
Like many of director Renny Harlin's (Deep Blue Sea, Die Hard 2) films, the core idea is intelligent, but the execution is in the "dumb fun" mode, and Mindhunters is probably a bit dumber than it needs to be to succeed. It's hard to slam Mindhunters for being another retread film in the tradition of Saw and the aforementioned Identity, especially since the completed film was in the can back in 2003, before the release of either of those films. However, like those two grisly thrillers, I can still compare it to the Usual Suspects and Seven, two films that have developed the formula for many psychological thrillers of the past decade. None of the imitators have the intelligence to match up, no matter how clever the screenwriters must think their game plan is, especially when the casting and set up of characters virtually gives away all the tells before the wheels are set in motion.
Also like Saw and Identity, Mindhunters offers some superficial thrills that makes it a decent diversion, even if it never approaches sufficient quality to think it to be a very good film. Harlin's direction is slick and constantly engaging, although he still can't resist his urges to blow stuff up whenever he feels he needs some excitement. With a sizable cast, stereotypes are relied upon in place of characterizations for the purposes of time-saving, and we never really get a good feel for any of them before they are dispatched. Without any rooting interest in the proceedings, all we're left with is to see if we are right in our guesses as to who the identity of the killer is once all is said and done.
Regular consumers of grisly psychological thrillers will probably enjoy this more than most viewers, although the most savvy among them will probably find Harlin's film to be too heavy on action and emphasis on gore to sustain a good grip on tension. For this reason, this is strictly for viewers that watch nearly every B-movie suspense film on the rental shelves, straight-to-video or otherwise, offering sensational escapism in place of plausibility, pressing the titillation button in our psyches whenever possible.
Although filmed in the Netherlands by a Finnish director, there are so many watches and clocks showcased, you'd swear this was made in Switzerland, especially with plot holes so prevalent that the script might rightfully have been written on Swiss cheese.
©2005 Vince Leo