Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled Mindhunters

Call it stupid, call it implausible, call it silly beyond compare, but the one thing Renny Harlin's breathless thriller Mindhunters could never be called is boring. A specialist in the sleek packaging of Hollywood trash—sometimes transcendent (The Long Kiss Goodnight), other times misguided (Exorcist: The Beginning)—Harlin has a pedal-to-the-metal directorial style that's singularly gripping, even when the quality-control button is jammed. Speed and intensity mean everything in a Harlin movie: No matter if it's all in service of patently ridiculous material, just so long as it moves. Normally, two years on the studio shelf spells certain disaster, but the world could use more disasters like Mindhunters, a tailor-made guilty pleasure that rehashes every serial-killer-movie cliché, but with infectious enthusiasm and conviction. Imagine the twist-a-minute gimmicks of 2004's Saw, but orchestrated with impeccable craft.

Heading what appears to be a Special Ed program for troubled or mentally deficient FBI agents, Val Kilmer drags a group of seven profilers-in-training to an island facility designed for controlled simulation. As Kilmer's eccentric methods are drawing suspicion from his superiors, the agency sends LL Cool J to tag along as an observer, and he gets an eyeful. Led by model agent Christian Slater, the gang tries to get inside the head of a simulated serial killer called "The Puppetmaster," who kills his victims and suspends them on fishing lines. But the danger turns real when an agent arranges the murder of a fellow trainee, and a series of cryptic clues indicates that the killer intends to take everyone out one by one. Naturally, suspicion falls on everyone on the island, leading to five or six scenes in which they all pull guns on each other simultaneously.

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Profilers profiling profilers: An irresistible high-concept hook, with the two major caveats: The agents seem to have qualified for the job by reading Thomas Harris novels, and all of them have histories that should have kept them out of the agency. ("So what if he was found splashing around in his parents' blood as a child? Let's give him a chance!") Together, this brain trust spends much of the movie figuring out the killer's traps and then running headlong into them anyway, all while finding new reasons to cast suspicion on one person or another. There's no justifying how madly and stupidly they behave at every turn, yet it's undeniably fun to watch these specimens wriggle helplessly under Harlin's scalpel. Trashy and indefensible in most respects, Mindhunters may be a good-bad movie, but entertainment is entertainment, however it comes.

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