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Mindhunters: pretty damn good...for a thriller

Jul 24, 2004
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Good pacing, decent acting, something a little different

Cons:Plausibility suffers in retrospect.

The Bottom Line: It's just a mindless, lightweight thriller. But it was better than I expected it to be. A good example of the genre.

Seven rookie FBI agents and one cop are set down on a small island fifty miles off shore for a sort of final exam in cracking serial killing cases. All the rookies covet the prestigious profiler position, so the stakes are high for each of them. Left alone on the island to study the simulated murder scenes rigged in a creepy Naval funhouse designed for wargames training, the rookies must work together to solve the simulated crimes. The only problem, of course, is that very soon they find the deaths aren't simulations, and they're the ones dying. Somewhere on the island, a killer is profiling and stalking each of them, and they soon realize that the killer can only be one of their own number.

Director Renny Harlin packs plenty jittery-jangly adrenaline buzz into this fast paced thriller. From the first scene, Harlin winds up the tension very skillfully and never cuts the audience any slack. More a whodunit than a slasher movie, Mindhunters focuses on the spreading paranoia and suspicion within the group rather than on the gore, which is relatively low key. Though there are a few gross-out shots, these feel gratuitous because on the whole the film leans away from the slasher/horror genre. I'm certainly no connoisseur of thrillers, but the movie felt fresh and not hackneyed to me. Harlin moved the tightly plotted story along quickly enough to keep all the balls in the air for the rather short running time (about an hour and forty minutes).

I should point out here that apparently, multiple endings were shot for this movie. While other reviewers lament the endings they saw, the one that I saw here in Belgium was not particularly weak. I get the sense from reading other reviews that some of the gore was toned down in the version I saw as well. Perhaps the studio is conducting tests in different focus groups. I realize this makes it difficult to rely on my review for whatever version of the film makes the final cut for release world-wide, but all I can do is report my opinion based on what I saw. And I really can't tell you which version of the movie I saw without giving away the killer's identity. So you'll just have to take my opinion with a grain of salt.

Character development is not the movie's strong suit, but then the characters don't need a great deal of development to fulfill their purposes. More important to the movie was the sense of camaraderie within the group, and that was established in the opening scenes just well enough to work. It's hard to complain about a film with no fat to trim. But I think a few extra minutes spent to better develop the characters might have pushed the piece to another level.

The entire ensemble cast acquitted themselves decently to quite well in their roles. I thought it was an interesting choice on the director's part not to cast any major box office draw. No one stood out as the star of the vehicle and no one did a noticeably poor job; and that allowed the movie to get on with the business of telling a story. Christian Slater and Val Kilmer, the biggest names on the cast roster, got relatively little screen time. Both Slater and Kilmer look like they've been ridden hard and put away wet. Neither distinguished themselves through their performance. I'm such a musical rube that I didn't recognize LL Cool J as the cop who's been assigned to their team to observe their training. Fortunately, he can act, or at least he did well with this performance.

The inventive and creepy traps laid by the killer are probably the film's strongest suit. Fortunately, the victims don't have to behave in monumentally stupid ways to meet their ends. Only one character waltzes off alone, and not in the interest of investigating the creepy noises coming from the woods. When the rookies hunt the next trap, announced by the discovery of one stopped watch after another, the audience gets to rack their brains along with the characters, trying to figure out how the traps will work, who's going to die, and how they might avoid them.

Despite occasional lines of dialog that fall flat, overall the writing and the acting carry the picture adequately. All the technical aspects of the film, such as lighting and sound worked well enough to be unnoticeable, while still contributing to the dark and nervous atmosphere of the film. The script was reasonably coherent, though plausibility does take a beating once you leave the movie theater. The film's pacing is such that one doesn't question very closely during the viewing. I think for most people it will be fairly easy to suspend disbelief so long as they're watching the movie. This is lightweight entertainment done fairly well. The movie kept me guessing about the killer's identity, and it wasn't the one I suspected. For films of this sort, I think that's all I can really ask.

There's a little bit of nudity in this film, but the real reason to keep the kidlets away from the film is the violence, which is brief but fairly graphic at times. If you're a fan of the genre, I'd recommend the film. It's not a masterpiece, but it was certainly worth the ticket price I paid.

Recommend this product? Yes

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