If you're expecting a psychological thriller out of Mindhunters, and you buy a ticket for the movie, you will indubitably feel cheated. But break down the film's title to its most literal sense -- hunting for a mind, presumably because those involved were out of theirs -- and you'll know exactly what to expect. This is, after all, a Renny Harlin film, which means it'll be bad. The important question is: Will it be goofy, nacho-cheese bad like Deep Blue Sea and The Adventures of Ford Fairlaine, or simply godawful bad like Driven or Cliffhanger?
We're thankful it's the former. And how could it not be when the film is more or less a remake of Deep Blue Sea minus the sharks? There's the computer-generated isolated-island lab; a demographically mixed group of victims who will be picked off one by one; the sense that all of these deaths are the result of government irresponsibility; and even a sudden, shocking celebrity offing, mirroring Deep Blue Sea's most memorable moment. All of that and LL Cool J too. Oh, and the movie opens with images of deep water and someone drowning, which will later prove to be of minor importance in a key scene.
After the credits, we pick up with FBI trainees Christian Slater and Minority Report's Kathryn Morris (looking here like Ellen DeGeneres, strangely enough) on the trail of a serial killer through fake-looking snow. Like every serial killer imagined by screenwriters nowadays, this one is clearly a Goth who owns a large old house full of doll parts, music boxes, and dead animals. But things are not as they appear: A rather obvious "surprise" occurs, and in short order our profilers-in-training are being reprimanded by teacher Val Kilmer, whose casting feels like a deliberate tip-off that his character may be insane.
Slater's and Morris's characters are part of a larger class who, for their final exam, are to be shipped off to a remote island that's been tricked out as a sort of CSI-themed Disneyland infested with stray cats, which are all the better for creating cheap shocks, à la Alien, or killing for cheap gross-outs, à la Gummo. Somewhere in this new environment lies a staged crime scene, clues to the nature of which could be anywhere and everywhere. Among the stranded: LL Cool J as a last-minute government liaison; Jonny Lee Miller as an annoyingly fake Southerner (even his Trainspotting costar Ewan McGregor does better American accents); big-screen newcomer Will Kemp as a spunky Brit (standout line: "'E just pulled that gun ou' of 'is arse!"); Clifton Collins, Jr. as a surly gun nut in a wheelchair; and Patricia Velasquez as -- surprise! -- a hot-tempered Latina.
A strangled cat with a broken watch in its guts kicks off the excitement, as the group splits into teams of two to find their assignment. No sooner than it is found does a preposterously elaborate and easily escapable death trap activate, claiming a life at exactly the time shown on the broken watch. The rest of the movie is basically a series of repetitions of this action, as Rube Goldberg-esque devices proceed to claim one life at a time, always at exactly the hour specified on a conspicuously placed kaput clock. Infrared rays determine that no one else is on the island with the group, so one of them is most likely the killer, adding to the paranoia.
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In other words, this is a slasher movie. It's not about the characters or the dramatic tension or any kind of believability. It's about how cool the death scenes are, and on that score Harlin is a champ. Recalling the gory, grotesque kills he devised for Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4, he has invested most of his time and energy in Mindhunters on creative, gruesome demises. But they're not entirely random: When the pattern behind the killings is finally revealed, it adds a nice touch to the proceedings. Props to screenwriter Wayne Kramer (The Cooler) for that, and for not telegraphing exactly whose time is up next; when anyone can die at any time, it's a good recipe for suspense.
The suspense, though, is undercut by a majorly crappy score (credited to Finnish composer Tuomas Kantelinen) that vacillates from mediocre hard rock to intrusive orchestral without any apparent regard for what's actually onscreen. Also lame is a climactic confrontation that suddenly devolves into sped-up kung fu, especially since neither participant looks all that well versed in the martial arts. Of the cast, only Collins delivers a memorable performance with the sort of energy and intensity this film needs; Kilmer is good too, but his role is basically a glorified cameo.
Despite all of its flaws -- and there are enough to render Mindhunters indefensible on most purely cinematic levels -- there are times when certain moviegoers simply feel the need to stare far-fetched, blood-drenched death in the eye and laugh. It's here, so have at it.