This came out in theaters and got generally tepid to poor reviews, and you know, Kevin Costner, so I decided to skip it. But then not one but TWO separate people wrote me to recommend it as quite interesting, so to the top of my list it went.
We open with a title, unnecessary in retrospect, saying “The hunger has returned to Mr. Brooks’ brain. It never really left.” We meet Costner as Earl Brooks, Portland businessman, who has an invisible friend, Marshall, played by William Hurt. Brooks is the Thumbprint killer, but feels terrible about it and wants to stop. Marshall appears only to him and goads him into killing again. Brooks walks in on a couple and shoots them both in the head. He realizes he forgot to draw the curtain first, and does so. Then he goes home and carefully burns all the evidence with his in-basement evidence-destroying furnace.
Demi Moore appears as brilliant forensic detective Tracy Atwood. She was hunting the Thumbprint killer, Brooks, but he has been inactive for two years. She also put the Hangman killer behind bars, and he has recently escaped. She’s also worth $60 million, and stands to inherit far, far more when dad dies, so the question on some minds is why is she a cop? She’s also enduring a messy divorce from some cad who slept with anyone and everyone while they were together, and now is demanding a ton of separation money.
Brooks finds his daughter returned from freshman year of college, having dropped out. She is quite, quite flirty with her father as she tries to persuade him not to make her go back to school, hopping up on his lap as she tries to finagle a position at his company. That way, when the time comes,” she takes off his glasses and puts them on herself, “We can keep it in the family.” Uh, okay, what are we talking about here?
Then Dane Cook as Mr. Smith [we never find out his real name] shows up with photographs of Brooks at the murder. He was jerking off while watching the couple screw, and says that when Brooks showed up and killed them “the RUSH was incredible.” What does he want? Only to accompany Brooks on his next murder, which he wants to be SOON. Brooks tells him to beware—Brooks considers himself a murder addict, and warns Smith against becoming one himself.
Then we have a meeting between Demi and her ex, a gigolo demanding a large sum of money from her, which she sees as ludicrous since she paid for everything while they were together. At one point she tells him directly “You know what would make me the most happy right now? If you got hit by a truck and died.” This is not the kind of talk one makes if one wants to win one’s case, but Demi says “Fuck it, it felt good.” So you see, Demi too understands doing something destructive just because it feels good.
Then Brooks sneaks into Smith’s bedroom while he’s sleeping and threatens him to make sure he’s serious, escaping while still leaving the chain locked on the door. The guy is like a superhero—and from here on out I was SURE that we were going to learn that this was adapted from a comic book or graphic novel. He comes home and goes into his sleeping daughter’s room, kissing her on the cheek. The next morning they learn that the daughter is pregnant. Brooks and his wife advise her to keep it, and say they will help her raise it. Then Demi figures out that Cook might have seen the murder, and goes to visit him just as he’s going out for his murder with Brooks. Does it seem like there’s a lot of subplots going on here? And at this point one still thinks they might somehow tie into each other by the end.
So in probably the movie’s best scene, Brooks and Marshall sit in the car while they wait for Smith to show up. It’s good just because of the effortless rapport between the two actors, each playing very well of each other, and of course the added amusement that one of the characters in only in the other’s mind. When one of them tells a joke and they both laugh, it’s a fizzy moment, since there really is only one of them. The movie also includes a bunch of carefully-composed shots that places the two men, really one, in interesting arrangements to highlight the nature of their relationship. There is a heavy streak of homoeroticism going through the movie, both between Marshall and Brooks—at one point Marshall admits to enjoying seeing Brooks experience torment—and between Brooks and Smith, as Brooks appears as an older mentor who will guide Smith through this extremely intense experience that will be a “rush” for both of them. Anyway, they drive around for a while, but Brooks ends up putting Smith off for the night, saying he wants to pick just the right person.
SPOILERS > > >
So Demi is just walking down the street one day when suddenly she is thrown into a van! It’s Meeks, aka the Hangman killer, who she put in jail, and just one of Portland, Oregon’s vast panoply of serial killers! He threatens to rape and kill her, but Demi FIGHTS BACK! There is this super-intense fight scene in this speeding van, which Demi escapes by being thrown forty feet when the van crashes. Of course she’s fine—not even a scratch! This whole sequence was very exciting and well-directed. Unfortunately, it breaks the entire tone of the movie in fact seems to have been inadvertently edited in from another film. It’s about now that you wish the filmmakers had the confidence [and the world had the audience] to just go with the quiet black comedy that is this movie’s forte.
Then—Demi is back on the thumbprint case, but she only has three days to bring him in! And Brooks’ daughter is questioned about a murder back at school! And Brooks instantly knows that SHE did it—that “she has what I have,” i.e. an addiction to murder!
< < < SPOILERS END
It continues spiraling out of control, adding twists and subplots, until you start to really, REALLY wonder how all this is going to come together. In the meantime there are more very good intimate moments between Marshall and Brooks [Marshall holds Brooks as he weeps], and still more completely out-of-place hyper-action moments with Demi that seem to hail from a completely different movie, most notably a strobe-lit hallways shootout. It all goes along, one plot is resolved but ALL the rest left hanging, and that’s it, then!
The key to understanding how this ended up this way is that it was planned as the first part of a trilogy. Apparently that is not going to happen now that this one didn’t do very well, but this really is like one episode from a comic book or the pilot to a new TV series—that is, there are three major plot strands, and only one of them gets resolved. The other two seem to be set-ups for forthcoming installments. It’s like the pilot for a TV show. At the end you’re left like; What did the whole daughter subplot have to do with anything? And why is Demi Moore in this movie AT ALL? WHAT was her character’s purpose here? I watched the “Writing Mr. Brooks” featurette in hopes of getting some answers to this, but no, just the writers talking about how very great and amazing they are and what a fantastic job they did. Don’t you wish DVDs of unsuccessful movies included a “What Went Wrong” featurette? Anyway, I would suggest to these guys that they turn this series into a comic book, where it would work beautifully.
And it’s really too bad because there is a very interesting movie in here trying to get out. The Brooks character is fascinating, and even though his relationship with Marshall is lifted directly from Raising Cain, it works. The Demi character could be interesting, she’s just not given a chance to develop [a deleted subplot revolving around her hiring an escort was wisely dropped, but still wouldn’t have given her a purpose here]. The whole daughter thing is a stretch, but interesting as an idea. The point is, there’s a lot of good stuff here, and the tone is great, as are Costner and Hurt’s performances, it’s just that there’s way too much and it has no shape. It’s simultaneously too bad there won’t be further installments and yet entirely makes sense, given what’s here. Go the comic book route, guys.
It has a lot going for it. There’s just too many extraneous subplots and almost no resolution.