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Mindhunters   C-

Dimension Films / Intermedia Films

Year Released: 2004 (USA: 2005)
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Renny Harlin
Writer: Wayne Kramer, Kevin Brodbin
Cast: LL Cool J, Jonny Lee Miller, Kathryn Morris, Patricia Velasquez, Clifton Collins Jr., Eion Bailey, Will Kemp, Val Kilmer, Christian Slater.

Review by Sean O'Connell

Even casual trailer trackers will recognize Renny Harlin's Mindhunters. Dimension heavily teased the police-procedural thriller back in 2003, airing commercials and attaching previews to the studio's bawdy comedy Bad Santa. And then, nothing happened. Schedules were shuffled, the movie sat in the can, and Harlin moved on to replace Paul Schrader behind the lens of the ill-fated Exorcist prequel.

So why the cinematic cold feet on Dimension's part? Competition wasn't exactly stiff, and crime solvers were red-hot at the time thanks to the success of television's C.S.I. franchise. Not to mention the fact that Mindhunters isn't the type of bomb studios tend to bury -- in true serial-killer-stalks-victims fashion, the first hour is tense and the last hour is terrible.

Wayne Kramer and Kevin Brodbin build a series of setups and letdowns into their screenplay, which draws inspiration straight from Agatha Christie's classic novel And Then There Were None. As part of an elaborate training sequence, unconventional FBI instructor Jake Harris (Val Kilmer) shuttles his team of rookie bureau profilers to an island obstacle course where they're ordered to track an imaginary killer dubbed The Puppeteer. When the dysfunctional squad arrives at the staged crime scene, team leader Reston (Christian Slater) actually dies, and the remaining agents scramble to locate a murderer before they're all picked off.

Red herrings abound as Harlin establishes his film's suspenseful mood. Similar-colored flags shoot up when, at the last minute, Harris adds an outsider to the team (LL Cool J). Should we be suspicious? We initially absorb every clue tossed our way, hoping that what we're deliberately shown will matter later. Sometimes it does, but often it doesn't. Kramer and Brodbin establish each agent as a potential suspect. At one point or another, each character carries motive, motivation, an alibi, or all of the above.

What starts as snazzy and smart, though, eventually becomes silly and impossible. Elaborate traps set by the stalking fiend are meant to play on each agent's individual weakness, but they rely too heavily on events that may or may not happen. For example, if one character fails to smoke a cigarette, they'll survive and the plot will unravel. If another character passes up on a cup of coffee, the story stops dead in its tracks.

Harlin keeps his film bouncing along so you'll hardly stop to think about these things until you're driving home. But the solid premise and average pacing of Mindhunters unravels the minute you put your mind to work on the details.

Review published 05.11.2005.

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