Ah, another Friday, another twist-laden, serial killer FBI flick at the neighborhood multiplex. Mindhunters implores audiences to ignore the fact its just another in a long line that falls under this bankable sub-genre. And, that its been on the shelf for quite awhile. Instead, the film simply asks for you sit back, relax and watch how they indulged themselves in making it.
A group of FBI hopefuls journey to an island on the outer banks of North Carolina for a special training operation. They're sent there to hone their skills under the watchful eye of their ambiguously shady boss, Harris (Val Kilmer). Not much is known about Harris, but one thing is clear: The apprentices don't trust him. So when things start going fatally awry--with the seemingly uninhabited island turning into an FBI abattoir as the agents are picked off one by one by an unseen assailant--they all think he's the one to blame. But is he? Maybe it's the hotheaded FBI alum, Gabe (LL Cool J). Or maybe someone else in the group. Tired and wary, the team, or at least those who remain, begin pointing fingers at one another. Whoever it is, time is of the essence, literally and figuratively, as the clever sociopath (aren't the all?) leaves clues--usually in the form of some time-telling device--to when he'll strike next. The surviving agents all turn vigilant and split up (thus setting the scene for more slayings), except for two of the group members, Sara and Lucas (Kathryn Morris and Jonny Lee Miller), who vow to stick together. By the end, your head will be spinning--either from the bevy of startling twists or from how such twists probably fell through the cracks in the editing room. Chances are, if you would shake your head at the latter, you won't be seeing Mindhunters, anyway.
While the premise of Mindhunters is similar to TV's Survivor, the acting might be a bit better on the hit reality show. Christian Slater--clearly trying to jumpstart a career revival á la John Travolta in Pulp Fiction-- plays as J.D. Reston, the dutiful leader of the FBI profilers, like a good boy scout, while the aforementioned Kilmer plays the Harris as cryptically as only Kilmer can. The odd thing is that two of Mindhunters' biggest stars are reduced to mere cameos, which leaves the movie's next-biggest star, LL Cool J, to carry the movie--and he does a more than adequate job. Of course, had the film been released on its scheduled time, this might have been LL Cool J's leading-man vehicle, but he's been able to achieve that, more or less, on his own since 2003. The rest of the dead profiles walking consist of journeymen and women: Morris (TV's Cold Case) as the eager Sara; Miller (Hackers) as her comrade in arms; Clifton Collins Jr. (Traffic) as wheelchair-bound Vince; Will Kemp (Van Helsing) as Rafe; and Patricia Velasquez (The Mummy Returns) as Nicole.
Perhaps Mindhunters was doomed from the start. It is invariably a bad sign when a movie comes out two years after the fact. Should the finger be pointed at director Renny Harlin (of, um, Cutthroat Island fame) then? Not really. It's not his fault--well, not entirely--that he hasn't directed anything worthwhile since 1993's Cliffhanger. Harlin clearly does know how to guide a rather straightforward action-thriller, and Mindhunters is no exception. He conjures up legitimate scares and makes the most of a seemingly anemic script. No, the colossal Disney-Miramax rift is probably more to blame for Mindhunters' extreme delay and the negative buzz. Coupled with the fact that the script by Wayne Kramer and Kevin Brodbin--with its outlandish implausibilities--turns a potential summer blockbuster that is meant be a psychological thriller into psychobabble. Harlin's skill is evident in Mindhunters and therefore he should be spared--this time.
Mindhunters is ultimately condemned to near-banality by trying to concoct a blockbuster with elements that just don't mesh. Still, audiences, proving themselves unpredictable and suckers for a few good thrills, might be in for a mind trip of their own.