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Looking Back: Mr. Brooks (2007)

In the odd, pulpy “Mr. Brooks,” Kevin Costner plays the title character, the wealthy owner of a company that makes boxes. Apparently, the boxes are quite good, because his office building is fairly spectacular. Brooks has an adoring wife (played by Marg Helgenberger) and a delightful daughter (played by Danielle Panabaker) who is beginning her college career. He seems to have to have it all, though Brooks attends AA meetings regularly for his terrible addiction: serial killing. Yes, he refers to his unquenchable thirst for the thrill of killing as a disease akin to alcoholism. Whenever Brooks’ lust for murder builds, a figure he calls “Marshall” (played by William Hurt) appears and acts as his evil id. There’s also a cop pursuing him (played by Demi Moore) and a creep (played by comedian Dane Cook) who wants to be a killer just like Brooks.

Co-writer/director Bruce A. Evans’ only other film is the enjoyable, if not altogether great Christian Slater cop movie, “Kuffs” (1992). In that movie, Evans was having fun with the conventions of the genre, but not enough to elevate it above the run-of-the-mill buddy/cop comedies that littered the 1990’s. With “Mr. Brooks,” he’s really come up with something, though the end result is both admirable and pokey. The mid-section is dull and a number of scenes and plot twists (like a moment where Moore is launched from a van and lands on a car window, only to have a few stitches in the next scene) are quite absurd.

Both clever and trashy, “Mr. Brooks” would have worked best as a TV series, as the multiple narrative treads seem to be building towards something best explored on episodic television. Though Costner and the filmmakers envisioned making a trilogy, everything here seems ideal for the kind of gimmicky police procedural to come after “Dexter” and “CSI” have run their course. In fact, considering that the baroque, brilliant and truly sick “Hannibal” is now off the air, a series based on “Mr. Brooks” seems a natural and ideal choice as a film-to-TV adaptation.

The core idea is that Brooks is fearful that his “sickness” can be passed down to his daughter. He fears his tarnished soul will not only embarrass but doom his family. He’s depicted often praying the AA prayer and relying on meetings to keep his mind away from the temptation to kill. It’s a pretty nutty idea but, taken as subtext (the whole movie is about struggling with addiction and overcoming the sins of our fathers), it is intriguing. As crazy as the whole I’m-afraid-my-daughter-is-a-serial-killer angle is, it’s the subplot that hooked me the most.

The cast goes a long way to making this seem plausible in the moment (thinking back on the logic of the story is death to a movie like this). Costner really digs into the part and, unlike his failed turn in “3,000 Miles to Graceland,” makes this villain both sympathetic and suitably creepy. Evans isn’t above using shadows and even a flashlight beam to make Costner seem “evil.” Yet, it’s the actor’s straight forward performance as a tortured, deranged murderer, who disguises himself as a perfect family man (he uses glasses the same way Clark Kent does), is quite effective. It’s hard to understand why Hurt wanted to play the goofy role of Marshall but he’s amusing and icily commanding in the role (I suspect the character is either a manifestation of Brook’s first victim, Brook’s father, or both).

Helgenberger has little to do in the thankless role of Brooks’ wife but Panabaker is excellent and her scenes with Costner really crackle. Cook is surprisingly great in a straight role; he never dials into the sickness within his character but, admirably, commits to his repulsive nature. Amazingly, 1990’s movie superstars Moore and Costner have never made a film together until this one. Although they have only one scene together, it’s a good one. Moore’s recent films mostly haven’t connected but there is a fire in her work here to remind one why she was such an in-demand and underrated actress at her peak.

Although some of “Mr. Brooks” doesn’t altogether work, I admire the ending a great deal. The film’s last scene is spooky and fairly bold. Normally I hate any it’s-only-a-dream reveal, but here, the last shot has a haunting quality: what Mr. Brooks awakens to is so much worse than the nightmare he experienced. “Mr. Brooks,” both the character and the movie itself, is pretty crazy. It kept me in its strange grip but I suspect, if this ever becomes a televised drama, it will better explore the tasty narrative morsels it brings to the surface.

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