Jigsaw Body Count
How Reny Harlin Matters
By Cole Smithey
Director Renny Harlin ("Deep Blue Sea") ratchets up the gore factor in yet another twist on the traditional Hollywood slasher flick. An abandoned Navy Seals training complex on a remote island is the setting for a group of eight FBI serial-killer- profilers to prove their newly forged investigative skills to their sadistic training supervisor Harris (Val Kilmer). The group’s secluded training weekend goes immediately awry when one of the skittish rookies walks into an elaborate booby trap that leaves him properly sliced and diced to pieces. Accusations swarm and tension mounts as the group’s number dwindles at the unseen hand of a psychopath among them. The enjoyable cast includes Christian Slater, LL Cool J, Jonny Lee Miller, Kathryn Morris, Clifton Collins Jr., Will Kemp, Patricia Velasquez, and Eion Bailey.
Akin to last year’s "Identity" (director James Mangold), "Mindhunters" is a who-done-it murder-mystery that’s nearly impossible for an audience to decode until the closing minutes of the movie. The film opens with a tense horror sequence that introduces two of the key players in a criminal-capture predicament that’s soon divulged to be a training event not unlike the extended exercise program that makes up the crux of the movie. The audience is lavished with meticulous attention to detail that fills every inch of the screen. Set decorator Eliza Solesbury ("Pearl Harbor") and production designer Charles Wood ("The Italian Job") have a field day with cramming texture into the film’s dense visual palette and industrial image system. There’s a claustrophobic joy available to audiences willing to go along with the knowing visual winks the filmmakers toss out in every frame of the convoluted storyline.
The same sense of plucky delight carries over into the cast, who comfortably settle into their ill-fated roles. Christian Slater exhibits a pronounced indulgence in fulfilling a humorously flawed character responsible for setting the sardonic cut ‘em up tone of the movie. Jonny Lee Miller ("Trainspotting") adds his signature flair for character accents as a FBI professional with a weakness for romantic entanglement. Kathryn Morris ("Minority Report") does her fair share of pushing the suspense as an unsteady trainee forced to confront her worst fears.
"Mindhunters" is an ensemble action suspense thriller that executes the heavy demands of its fast-paced script (by Wayne Kramer and Kevin Brodbin). Each sanguinary sequence serves as a virtuosi vignette wherein the characters are compelled to exhibit their mettle before their imminent demise hits. Reny Harlin keeps the pitch of the film dark and lonely, so that even at the end of the movie there’s a lump in your throat regarding the dense spectacle of comic horror you’ve just witnessed. Harlin presents a knowable/unknowable atmosphere that taunts you in a similar manner to Alfred Hitchcock’s penchant for toying with his audiences.
There’s an inescapable thrill in going to see a Reny Harlin movie because you know that you’re putting yourself in the hands of master of the action genre. Harlin’s best film, "The Long Kiss Goodnight" (1996), is a faultless example of the Finnish helmer’s distinct ability to milk character elements from a dramatic standpoint toward a vast spectacle of action while still remaining true to an emotional core.
It’s interesting to note that Harlin was chosen by Warner Brothers to replace Paul Schrader on the recent "Exorcist: The Beginning," for which Harlin reshot the entire movie. Even Harlin’s past failures, such as "Cutthroat Island" (1995) and "Driven" (2001), carry a stamp of muscularity he exerts over his material. Reny Harlin may not carry the allure of an auteur like Quentin Tarantino, but he’s every bit as adventurous in putting fast-twitch cinematic action on the screen. Hot dogs and popcorn come with the territory.
Rated R. 106 mins. (B-) (Three Stars)
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