I played hookie from Cinevegas yesterday afternoon by sneaking into a regular-ass commercial screening of Mr. Brooks, the Kevin Costner murder thriller that has managed a mere 55% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

William Hurt, Kevin Costner in Mr. Brooks

I agree with the naysaying 45% that director and co-writer Bruce A. Evans has succumbed to overly dense plotting, and that he totally blows it at the very end (I instantly got up and walked when the “final thing” happens), but I never wanted to leave before that. Mr. Brooks is compulsively watchable, and more enjoyable than I expected. Plus it features Costner’s most intriguing performance since Open Range, and it delivers another exquisite supporting turn by William Hurt, who can do no wrong these days.
Set in Portland, Oregon, it’s about a multi-millonaire named Earl Brooks has a secret addiction to murder. Like a guy with a latent drinking problem who can’t stick to sobriety, every so often Brooks falls off the wagon and goes out and claims a victim, feeling immensely satisfied during the act but reverting into a total guilt mode in the aftermath.
Hurt plays Marshall, his alter ego. Marshall is the madness but also the brains of the operation — the guy who lusts for the thrill of of it all but is also very smart in figuring how not to get pinched. The scenes between Costner and Hurt are worth the price of admission alone — relaxed, subtle, assured, even comforting. That sounds a bit weird, I realize, but it’s nice to have a shrewd partner in life who grins a lot and enjoys a good verbal spar.
New Yorker critic David Denby says it beautifully in his review: “Marshall is a roguish wit, seductive and amused, who knows that he√ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s being unreasonable but presses his needs anyway. Once satisfied, he becomes the ultimate kibbitzer. Tucking in his jaw and alternating irony, sarcasm, and mockery, Hurt hits one spinning serve after another, and Costner hits them right back at him. The two have a fine time, as if they had been doing this routine for years.”
For my money (even though I didn’t pay), Mr. Brooks is a nicely absorbing, easygoing piece of high-toned junk, and yet it never put me through any kind of pain. Until the end, that is, and, like I said, I didn’t even deal with it. I just bolted. I don’t want to deal with it now. It’s not worthy of my attention.
The secondary characters are a bit of a problem — an angry grungy creep (Dane Cook) who blackmails Brooks into being taken along on his next killing, and an angry glaring detective (Demi Moore) who’s determined to identify and bust the “thumbprint killer” (i.e. Brooks). They’re both bothersome because their obsessive behavior is snippy and unlikable. I was hoping that both would be killed, and in this respect I was only half-satisfied at the end.
A third supporting character, Brooks√ɬ¢√¢‚Äö¬¨√¢‚Äû¬¢s college-age daughter (Danielle Panabaker), could have been dropped altogether and the film would’ve been fine. She doesn’t do anything except tease and frustrate.