The Portland Chamber of Commerce's businessman of the year shares the next morning's newspaper coverage with the reemergence after two years of the Thumbprint Killer. A sleazy young amateur photographer by the name of Mr. Smith (comedian Dane Cook, "Employee of the Month") withholds his evidence from the suspicious Detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore, "Bobby") that those two articles are about one and the same man - "Mr. Brooks."
With his second directorial effort, Oscar nominated screenwriter Bruce A. Evans ("Stand By Me") upstages his own writing ability. Evans delivers mood, tone and acting in this seductively quiet and unhysterical film, but so overstuffs his screenplay (cowritten with "Stand By Me" partner Raynold Gideon) with plot he very nearly upends his own project. Still, if, as rumored on IMDB, "Mr. Brooks" is the beginning of a trilogy, Evans can be given a slight pass for going a bit overboard setting up his premise.
On the way home from that awards ceremony with his lovely wife Emma (Marg Helgenberger, TV's "C.S.I."), Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner, "Open Range") is clearly troubled. 'The hunger had returned to Mr. Brooks's brain,' we're told just before his alter ego, the eerily pale Marshall (William Hurt, "A History of Violence"), appears in the back seat. Marshall wants to celebrate Earl's evening by committing murder, a vice Earl has kept under wraps for two years by attending AA meetings. Earl surprises Emma by suggesting a stop for something sweet, and as the two eat ice cream at an outdoor cafe, Marshall scopes out an upstairs dance studio couple from curbside.
Once home, Earl tells Emma he's retiring to his pottery studio, actually an ornate and organized setup to destroy crime scene evidence. But for all Earl's meticulous planning, this time he makes a mistake. The copulating couple he's targeted are exhibitionists who make love with their drapes wide open and an opportunistic neighbor has been photographing them. The day after the double homicide, Earl's life begins to unravel on three different fronts. He learns that Atwood, the woman who famously bagged The Hangman, is on his case. He has a fan in Smith, who uses his crime scene photos to blackmail his way into his own dark fantasies. And daughter Jane (Danielle Panabaker, "Sky High," "Yours, Mine and Ours") comes home from dropping out of school for reasons which will turn out to be quite shocking.
"Mr. Brooks" is overloaded on two levels. The competing teams of the brilliant Atwood and dimwitted Smith would have been more than enough to carry the film, so Jane's story, while adding character layers to Earl, should have been seeded but moved wholly into part two. And while Atwood is to Brooks as Starling was to Lecter (the film even ends with a sequel-leading phone call), putting her up against not only a nasty divorce, but the escape of her most famous collar is just too much and should have also gone under the knife for a transplant into a second picture. That said, there are enough strengths to the film to warrant a revisit.
Costner, brilliantly cast against type, epitomizes the inexplicable evil of a Ted Bundy, albeit on a more successful level. He is an astute businessman and loving family man brooding under the weight of his addiction. Hurt deliciously embraces the dark side, but Costner lets it peep through as well - his twirling, post-murder celebration is understated euphoria. Hurt provides the film's dark humor and has a wonderful push/pull chemistry with Costner.
Demi Moore has been believable as tough before ("G.I. Jane") and her independently wealthy cop (she's Earl to Jane's Marshall) is shrewd and quick on her feet. The up and coming Panabaker does a good job of playing a person putting on a front and Helgenberger keeps the 'wife' role from disappearing into the backdrop. The film's biggest casting surprise - Cook as the sniveling thrill seeker - pays off really well. I may not like the guy's inane comedies, but as an unlikable sleaze he's top notch. The film also features Lindsay Crouse ("Imposter") as Tracy's captain, "Sex and the City's" Jason Lewis as her soon-to-be-ex and "24's" Michele, Reiko Aylesworth, as his scheming lawyer.
Production design is skillful, with Brooks always on display in modern, cubist glass structures which also reflect his box business. Original music by Ramin Djawadi ("Ask the Dust") also adds a modern edge.
"Mr. Brooks" is a flawed look at a seriously flawed anti-hero, but what is done right is enough to make one line up for more. Costner's found a character who never wants to kill again but is clearly not done yet.
Robin did not see this film.
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