Mindhunters

Movie Information

Score:

Genre: Horror Mystery
Director: Renny Harlin
Starring: L.L. Cool J, Kathryn Morris, Christian Slater, Jonny Lee Miller, Val Kilmer
Rated: R

No, this is not very good movie. But it’s only fair to point out that those who say they’re outraged about this tricked-out splatter movie being a travesty of the 1939 Agatha Christie novel, And Then There Were None, seem to have overlooked the fact that Dame Agatha wasn’t being terribly original herself.

The novel’s basic setup — a group of people invited to an isolated location by a mysterious host are murdered, one by one — dates back to an obscure 1930 mystery novel, Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning’s Invisible Host. The story had already made it to the screen in 1934 as The Ninth Guest, and had been revamped with more fantastic horror trappings as a Boris Karloff vehicle, The Man They Could Not Hang, the same year the Christie novel appeared.

Now, I’ve no doubt that the “original” story and screenplay cooked up here by screenwriter Wayne Kramer (The Cooler) was more than likely appropriated from the Christie work (or one of its myriad film adaptations), but the point is that Kramer was only following her example. (Indeed, Mindhunters was probably pitched as being “like And Then There Were None with FBI trainees.”)

The movie is certainly inferior to And Then There None in every conceivable way — except in the realm of unintentional humor. The fact that this film has been gathering dust for a couple years before release should be a tip-off that we’re not dealing with a quality product. In essence, this is another in the long line of Renny Harlin potboilers, the major difference being the bait-and-switch casting, which suggests a Christian Slater or Val Kilmer picture but actually delivers an L.L. Cool J one.

I’m not sure this really matters, though, since the end results — Christie’s story line to one side — don’t amount to much more than a Friday the 13th movie with delusions of depth. As with most of Harlin’s films, there’s a good deal of style — nearly all of it belonging to other movies.

The movie has a creepy opening that feels cribbed from The Silence of the Lambs. But that’s immediately ruined when it turns into a shaggy sociopath story that’s all a part of the unorthodox (not to mention improbable) training techniques of one Jake Harris (Val Kilmer serving up a heaping helping of ham). This all leads to the big test — stranding our “heroes” on an equally improbable, Navy-owned island that just happens to have its very own version of the Overlook Hotel from The Shining. Just in case we’re too dim to see that the place is sinister, Harris tell us that it is.

Soon, the creepy quotient is cranked up with silly attempts at misdirecting the audience, as when a point-of-view camera creeps up on J.D. Reston (Christian Slater) in the shower. He turns around to see … nothing, and just as we’re deciding it was merely the cameraman moving in for a gratuitous butt shot, out pops Nicole Willis (Patricia Velasquez, The Mummy Returns) for purposes probably not in the FBI handbook (but ones that are hardly inimical to Reston’s well-being).

Harlin dearly loves this kind of false-scare; by this point in the movie, we’d already had false-scare-by-garbage-can and some variants on the time-honored false-scare-by-cat gambit. What he doesn’t get is that false-scares only really work if a real scare comes along at the right moment to catch the viewer unaware. Here, the real scares, when they do come, are more amusing than horrific, and rely heavily on the “creative death” school of filmmaking familiar to viewers of the Omen and Nightmare on Elm Street movies.

The first death — which occurs via a Rube Goldberg setup of dominoes and a helium tank — is probably the silliest, but it has some minor competition later on. Soon, of course, characters are dropping like flies, their deaths foretold by watches with an appointed time on them. The trainees realize that the killer must be — yes! — one of them, and this leads to the requisite suspicions and distrusts, which go on far too long for their own good.

It doesn’t help that most of the characters are more annoying than anything else, making their departures from the film more agreeable than unsettling. The question is supposed to be, “Who is the killer?” The question that actually emerges, though, is “Why we should care?” And this — despite game efforts from L.L. Cool J and Kathryn Morris (Paycheck) — is a question for which Mindhunters has no answer. Rated R for violence/strong graphic images, language and sexual content.

– reviewed by Ken Hanke

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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