Mr. Brooks stars Demi Moore and Kevin Costner. No, it isn’t some lost artifact from the early 1990s; it’s a tightly scripted, but slightly wonky new serial killer movie headlined by stars who were at the top of the form when the first George Bush was in office.
Costner takes a break from his usual nice guy routine to play the title role, Earl Brooks, a successful business man with a beautiful wife (Marg Helgenberger) and an even more beautiful home. His life seems perfect, but the far-away look in his eyes lets us know that everything is not right in Mr. Brooks’ world. You see, he’s an addict. He’s been on the straight and narrow for two years, but something is pulling at him. That something is Marshall (William Hurt) a mayhem loving imaginary friend who looks a great deal like the professor from Altered States.
Marshall convinces Mr. Brooks to indulge his bad habit one more time, letting loose the Mr. Hyde that Earl tries to keep under wraps. They don’t go on a drinking binge, start smoking or take drugs. Mr. Brooks is far too straight laced for any of that kind of behavior. You see, Mr. Brooks is addicted to killing, and Marshall is the bad influence who convinces him to stalk and kill innocent people. When the usually meticulous killer makes a mistake at the scene of the crime he opens himself up to scrutiny from not only a very determined police detective (Demi Moore), but also a wannabe homicidal maniac (Dane Cook) who blackmails Mr. Brooks into schooling him in the ways of the serial killing game.
We’ve seen the serial-killer-next-door scenario played out many times on screen, and as usual, in Mr. Brooks most of the female characters are underwritten. Helgenberger is wasted as Mrs. Brooks in a role that requires her to do little else than look good, while Moore’s determined cop routine, although well performed, is pretty standard stuff. In spite of its shortcomings Mr. Brooks has several points that vault it head and shoulders above the rest.
The story takes a few unexpected zigs and zags. Cook’s killer fan boy is a fun diversion and the seemingly red herring role of the daughter adds depth to the piece but it really is the performances of Costner and Hurt that make Mr. Brooks so entertaining to watch.
In Earl Brooks Costner, never an expressive actor, finds the perfect character fit for his acting style. Most of the time Costner’s bland approach undermines his characters, but Brooks is a man who controls his emotions, the blank look on his face hiding the barely controlled malevolence that wracks his brain. The actor’s dull exterior perfectly mirrors the image Mr. Brooks must portray to avoid being caught. This is a guy who looks like he couldn’t blow the foam off a glass of beer let alone put a bullet in someone’s head and that’s just as it should be.
William Hurt hands in a bravura turn as the evil alter ego who simply can’t contain his glee at the pandemonium he causes. He’s rotten to the core, but Hurt plays him more as a mischievous older brother who encourages his siblings to sneak a drink from dad’s liquor cabinet than a psychological force who pushes his host to commit heinous acts of murder.
A decade and a half ago these two actors almost co-starred in The Big Chill before Costner’s role ended up on the cutting room floor. Had that footage survived it would be interesting to see if they had the same kind of chemistry on-screen then as they do now. Mr. Brooks cooks with gas when those two do their evil twin routine.
Mr. Brooks isn’t on the same playing field as Silence of the Lambs or Psycho, but it is an interesting portrait of the killer next door.