Mr. Brooks -- in which Kevin Costner plays a respectable Seattle businessman who kills for thrills, thanks to the goading of an imaginary friend who looks a lot like William Hurt -- is stunningly tepid, neither the clever metaphor for addiction it strives to be nor the darkly comic Harvey it could have been. Indeed, Costner's Earl Brooks is such a square (appropriate for a man who made his fortune in box manufacturing) that he kills all of two people in the movie's first 90 minutes. And he feels really bad about it too -- what's so fun about that?
Mr. Brooks spends most of the film arguing with his phantom pal and trying to talk himself out of committing murder, which seems an awfully futile way to sell Costner's grisly comeback as the bad guy he's avoided playing for most of his up-and-down career. He killed more people as dreary do-gooder Eliot Ness in The Untouchables, for God's sake.
If only Mr. Brooks didn't take itself so seriously, and if only writer/director Bruce Evans and co-writer Raynold Gideon weren't trying so hard to make some point about the hereditary nature of addiction. Because that's all this is: a morality tale in which a father (Costner) passes along to his daughter (Danielle Panabaker) his killer genes and then tries to reverse the cycle of addiction, lest his little girl wind up as tortured as he claims to be. Mr. Brooks mutters to himself the "Serenity Prayer" ("God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change . . .") and goes to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings (where he admits only to being "an addict"), but the device is hollow and ham-handed -- a minor gag meant to elicit an ironic chuckle, not illuminate a character so barely fleshed out, he's little more than a bespectacled skeleton firing blanks at the audience's heads.
But Mr. Brooks is only half Costner's film; the rest belongs to Demi Moore, likewise trying to reignite her career. She plays a detective named Tracy Atwood, who's hunting for two serial killers -- not only Costner's so-called Thumbprint Killer, but also a man who bills himself as the Hangman (Matt Schulze), who, naturally, executes his victims and then leaves them swinging in public places. Atwood has her own personal problems: She's divorcing her second husband (Jason Lewis), a restaurateur who wants to bite off a big chunk of the $60 million fortune she got from her wealthy old man. And if you too want to know why someone worth $60 mil would risk her life looking for a guy named the Hangman, you're not the only one; it nags at Mr. Brooks almost as much as William Hurt's mysterious Marshall.
Speaking of Hurt: So relentlessly dull is Mr. Brooks, you're likely to let your mind wander as the film drifts from plotline to plotline, wasting most of its two-hour running time introducing unnecessary characters till its mad-dash finale. And then you might snap out of it for a second or two -- say, the one time Mr. Brooks laughs or during a gunfight in the dark that looks more like an acid-washed rave than a duel to the death -- only to slip back into your multiplex reverie. And then you might wonder about the guy who plays Brooks' wannabe protégé: Why the fuck is Dane Cook famous?