Dressed up as a glossy Hollywood production professing to present Kevin Costner in a whole new unheroic light, “Mr. Brooks” actually is a sloppy, sleazy trifle of chaotic storytelling about a community leader who moonlights as a serial killer.
There’s a bit of hope for “Mr. Brooks” early on as Costner’s title character engages in wicked interplay with his illusory alter-ego (William Hurt), a giddily bloodthirsty phantom who eggs on his counterpart to commit the dirtiest of deeds.
Director Bruce A. Evans and writing partner Raynold Gideon quickly begin piling on more and sillier plot threads, suffocating the story with a jumble of forced connections and coincidences among the characters.
The movie opens with a testimonial dinner for local man of the year Earl Brooks (Costner), a civic booster and seemingly pleasant but boring owner of a company that makes boxes. Perfect cover for a mass murderer.
On the drive home with his impossibly adoring wife (Marg Helgenberger, showing no traces of her “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” sass), Earl gets a visit from his personal bogey man Marshall (Hurt), who pops up in the backseat to urge his buddy to resume the killing spree he abandoned two years ago.
You see, Earl’s been going to AA meetings, proclaiming himself an addict, though conveniently withholding the fact that he’s addicted to murder. He wants to leave behind the serial-slayer life so badly, or so he says, but it takes just the briefest arm-twisting by Marshall before Earl carries out a fresh, immaculately plotted double murder.
He leaves behind his trademark, bloody thumbprints of both victims, adding new stress to the life of detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore), a cop juggling such huge personal crises that the return of the notorious “Thumbprint Killer” should almost be a diversion.
Earl uncharacteristically leaves a loose end in Mr. Smith (Dane Cook), a witness who blackmails the killer with a bizarre request.
Meantime, Earl’s daughter (Danielle Panabaker) comes home from college harboring dark secrets of her own, while Tracy is dealing with the threat of an escaped psychopath on her trail and a gold-digging husband suing her for divorce.
All this baggage gradually collides in a pure train wreck of outlandishness, the movie dragging on far too long and substituting garish twists in place of the slightest insight into what makes a serial killer tick.
This is just Evans’ second time as director, coming 15 years after the forgettable crime caper “Kuffs,” which he also wrote with Gideon. As screenwriters, the pair teamed on a modern classic, the Stephen King adaptation “Stand By Me,” but “Mr. Brooks” has none of that finesse.
The actors seem to aim for drollness that would have served well as a sadistically comic underpinning in a film that made any sense. Instead, they just come off as dull, with the exception of Hurt — who, playing a figment of the mind, gets to mug and cackle with glee.
When your best character is a serial killer’s imaginary friend, you know your movie’s in trouble.