Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Revisiting 'Mindhunters' (2004)

This movie proves the rule that anything starring Clifton Collins Jr. cannot be that bad.

While I would not say that Mindhunters is an underrated classic, it is a fun b-movie with an interesting premise, some good acting and inventive set pieces. It's basically Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, except that the victims are a team of rookie FBI profilers on a routine training mission to an island where police and military carry out exercises in a fake town set filled with mannequins and monitored by hidden cameras -- so that the instructors can monitor their student's progress.

In this case, a tough, idiosyncratic instructor (Val Kilmer) has left his class on the island with an unusual assignment -- to use their skills to find a serial killer who is killing the fictional island inhabitants. However, shortly after they arrive, someone begins to hunt the students down and kill them in various elaborate ways. Now the rookies have to band together to hunt down the real killer, who may be one of their own...

Directed by schlockmeister Renny Harlin, don't go into this expecting subtlety. However, what it lacks in nuance, Mindhunters makes up for in entertainment value.

The premise is a tad contrived, but it is well-realised. The characters are given a modicum of personality and the cast (including Kathryn Morris, Christian Slater, and Johnny Lee Miller) are not sleep-walking through their roles. Even LL Cool J is solid as a late addition to the team with his own motives for joining the group. The standout, as already mentioned, would have to be Clifton Collins Jr. as a disabled, paranoid profiler who refuses to go anywhere without his sidearm. 

The island setting is suitably eerie and Harlin's direction, while occasionally over-stylised, is surprisingly effective in conveying the necessary mood and tension. The students are killed in ways which reflect a specific element of their personality -- it is a pretty schlocky gimmick, but Harlin manages to prolong the build-up to the kills so that you never sure exactly how each character are going to die until the last moment. 

Are there flaws? Sure. The kills are momentarily clever, but the whole thing falls apart if you think about any of it too hard. The characters are not that deep, and their personalities can be boiled down to a few key ingredients. The tone is appropriately dark, although it does get to feel a little oppressive at times. Films like these generally manage to leaven their darker moments with a tinge of dark wit, but that is not really the case here. 

Roger Ebert put it best in his review: "Is the film worth seeing? Well, yes and no. Yes, because it is exactly what it is, and no, for the same reason."

If you are looking for a good thriller that is not as smart as you are, Mindhunters is that movie.

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