Movie review by Greg Carlson
After languishing on the shelf for two years, “Mindhunters” finally limps into theatres just ahead of “Star Wars: Episode III,” virtually guaranteeing a quick box office death and an even speedier trip to the DVD afterlife. It is likely that “Mindhunters” will fare better in the home rental market anyway, given its lurid subject matter, its B-list cast, and the track record of its over-the-top director Renny Harlin. A strident psychological thriller in the vein of Thomas Harris on a bad day, “Mindhunters” extends Hollywood’s flirtation with the FBI profiler. Boasting a strange merger of gruesome and elaborate death sequences that defy plausibility and a tendency to overthink even the most ridiculous scenarios, “Mindhunters” will entertain only those folks who appreciate Harlin’s “so bad it’s occasionally mediocre” camp.
Borrowing liberally from Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians,” “Mindhunters” deposits a handsome class of Quantico trainees on a fictional island where they will pit their skills against each other in pursuit of a fabricated killer called the Puppeteer. Given the twisted predilections of mentor Jake Harris (Val Kilmer, kooky), the trainees are already on edge when they arrive, and sure enough, one of them is immediately offed in spectacular fashion. The remaining would-be agents scramble to figure out the whodunit, but the script never satisfactorily entertains the notion that Harris himself could be pulling the strings.
Shaken by the death of one of their own, the students close ranks and shift their brains into overdrive. Mysterious clues begin to show up, indicating a time sensitive pattern to the killer’s plan. True to form, the trainees begin to drop like flies, leaving those remaining to begin pointing fingers at each other. Compounding tensions is the presence of outsider Gabe Jensen (LL Cool J), a cop invited along to observe the exercises. Suspicion immediately falls to him, but given the obviousness of his status as an interloper, and his heroic efforts to save the group, he doesn’t register as a legitimate suspect.
In its defense, “Mindhunters” stages imaginatively grisly deaths for its victims, and director Harlin relishes the opportunity to show off each nasty demise – even when employing laughably horrendous CGI. Harlin also keeps the film chugging along at a rapid clip, which certainly helps hide its deficiencies in logic. The industrial setting, filled with crumbling, empty buildings laced with all kinds of pipes and tanks, makes an ideal playground for this kind of nonsense. Some viewers will cringe at cinematographer Robert Gantz’s sickly green palette, but the desaturated look occasionally assists the anxiousness of the proceedings.
With the exception of LL Cool J, Kilmer, and Christian Slater, none of the cast members has enjoyed extraordinary fame. Kathryn Morris, who appears on “Cold Case,” has the largest role, but “Mindhunters” is not exactly the kind of movie that one associates with stellar acting. Jonny Lee Miller tries out a shaky accent. Patricia Velasquez, as the only other female profiler beside Morris, suffers the indignity of lathering up Slater in a gratuitous shower scene. Eion Bailey does his finest Jason Patrick impersonation. Confined to a wheelchair, Clifton Collins, Jr. is nearly as twitchy as his drug dealer in “The Rules of Attraction.” Will Kemp, who appeared in “Van Helsing,” scarcely registers this time out. None of the acting is poor – that distinction largely belongs to sections of Wayne Kramer and Kevin Brodbin’s script. Even so, “Mindhunters” offers enough cheap thrills to make it worth seeing on a rainy day.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 5/16/05.