Mindhunters director Renny Harlin deserves
some respect. Not a lot, but some.
Over the years Renny has plied his trade, diligently churning
out mindless but entertaining action hackwork. He made Cliffhanger
one of the very few enjoyable films in Sly Stallone’s
body of work. His Long Kiss Goodnight may be the most underrated
action film of the ’90s, and with Deep Blue Sea,
he could lay claim to the second-greatest shark film ever made.
On the other hand, he is responsible for Cutthroat Island,
the film that asked the question, “Can Matthew Modine
carry a big summer blockbuster?” The answer of course was
a resounding “NO” that sunk the film’s studio
(Carlaco) and almost the entire pirate genre.
So we’ve come to expect certain things from Renny, but we
also have certain expectations about films that have been shelved
for years as Mindhunters has. And these are not usually
good expectations. Throw in a couple of semi-washed-up stars like
Slater and Kilmer and you could
say that this is a film with a cloud hanging over its head, but
if you give Renny a chance I think you’ll find a not-nearly-as-bad-it-might-seem
kind of film. If that doesn’t sound like ringing endorsement
that’s because isn’t.
Mindhunters’ plot is as banal as its title. A group
of good-looking FBI profilers are sent on an training mission to
an empty town on island by their unorthodox taskmaster Harris (Kilmer,
sleepwalking his way to another paycheck). They’re joined
by a stranger from the Philadelphia police department (LL).
Soon after landing though the gang finds that it’s actually
being tested by a killer who has the whole island rigged and seems
to know their every move and habit. Is it one of them? Is it the
stranger? Could it be Harris?
Of course it should be no surprise if this seems familiar to you:
The basic set up is from Agatha Christie’s
Ten Little Indians. It’s been done many times before,
most memorably in Howard Hawks’ The Thing
From Another World and John Carpenter’s
remake, from which Renny listlessly borrows the blood-testing scene.
The whole thing has a borrowed feel to it and none of the characters
are interesting, though their dullness has the unintentional effect
of making characters’ various fates uncertain. In other words,
the movie keeps you on your toes because everyone is expendable.
The death traps are fun though (the first being a true Rube Goldberg
device). Hitchcock may have famously ignored realism
for his thrillers; well Renny does him one better by putting aside
reality, internal logic, and the character’s common sense
in his efforts to amp up the tension.
Still, despite the silliness and lack of originality, Mindhunters
works on the most basic level. It keeps your attention, even if
it doesn’t really reward it with much.