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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Mr. Brooks
Mr. Brooks
MGM // R // October 23, 2007
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Phil Bacharach | posted October 8, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

Like its titular character, Mr. Brooks has an identity crisis. The movie, overly plotted and often meandering, is a satire that does not realize what it is. While slickly made and certainly watchable, its improbable tale of a successful businessman addicted to serial killing fails to recognize -- much less appreciate -- its own preposterousness.

Give credit, though, to Kevin Costner, who admirably tweaks his own sensitive-man persona. His Earl Brooks is a devoted husband, father and Portland, Oregon, businessman who wrestles with an addiction to murder. Named "Man of the Year" by the city's Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Brooks celebrates by committing his first killings in two years. He breaks into the home of a young couple having sex, shoots them and rearranges the corpses into obscene positions so that he can snap photos for his personal collection. The double homicide marks the return of the mysterious murderer known to police as "the Thumbprint Killer."

But even cunning killers can screw up on occasion. Mr. Brooks forgets to shut the curtains to the bedroom in time to avoid being photographed by a scruffy peeping tom who calls himself Mr. Smith (a surprisingly effective Dane Cook). A few days later, Smith approaches Mr. Brooks with a curious proposition: He will hand the damning evidence over to the police unless Mr. Brooks lets him tag along to commit murder.

It seems watching Mr. Brooks go about his handiwork gave Mr. Smith an adrenaline charge he wants to replicate up close and personal. In this movie's universe, nearly everyone is either a psychopath or a wannabe psycho. And so our Mr. Brooks faces a dilemma. Does he cater to his would-be protégé or whack the guy? To sort out these and other matters, Mr. Brooks turns to his imaginary pal Marshall (William Hurt), the physical manifestation of his nasty little id.

Writers Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon (Stand by Me, Starman) muck up the proceedings with too much plot. Mr. Brooks' daughter Jane (Danielle Panabaker) suddenly returns home from college for unexplained reasons. Then there is an involved, superfluous narrative thread regarding Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore), the police detective hot on the trail of the Thumbprint Killer. The Atwood subplot seems particularly needless, replete with a convoluted backstory. She is the daughter of a rich daddy, she's in the midst of an ugly divorce, she has been targeted by another serial killer she once put away behind bars. Blah, blah, blah. Why are we told all this? Presumably, the filmmakers are striving for some sort of Silence of the Lambs-styled connection between cop and criminal, but such interplay between Brooks and Atwood never materializes. It certainly doesn't help that Moore sleepwalks through her role.

The surfeit of plot is an annoyance, but it isn't critical. The picture's bigger failing is that Earl Brooks, for all the attention paid to his murderous addictions, just isn't that interesting of a central character. The movies have suffered no shortage of serial killers. Moreover, the concept of an upstanding member of society by day turning into a monster at night is as old as the night Dr. Henry Jekyll whipped himself up a potion. Subsequently, the storyline becomes secondary to its execution, and Mr. Brooks never really finds its groove.

And yet there are inspired moments. The film is particularly inventive in its creation of Marshall, the Hyde to Earl Brooks' Dr. Jekyll. As imagined by the moviemakers, Marshall is not so much a demonic inner voice as he is an accomplice, and a pretty shrewd one, at that. Mr. Brooks turns to Marshall for help in sizing people up and cutting through the B.S., traits you suspect have also aided Mr. Brooks in his non-murderous dealings.

Marshall is a role well-suited for William Hurt and his brand of creepy solipsism. The best moments of Mr. Brooks, in fact, are those in which Hurt and Costner play off one another and indulge the movie's twisted comic vibe. The insidious laughter they share hints at the movie that might have been.

The DVD

The Video:

Presented in anamorphic widescreen and with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the screener DVD was of good picture quality - sharp details and inky blacks - but in several spots suffered from pixilation. Nevertheless, my observations are qualified as the disc provided by 20th Century Fox does not represent final product.

The Audio:

The same caveat applies to the audio. The 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround and 51. DTS mixes are crisp and clean, but the DTS appears a bit inconsistent in volume, at least when it comes to the booming crackle of gunfire.

An audio track in Spanish is available, with subtitles available in English and Spanish.

Extras:

In a commentary track, writer-director Evans and co-writer Gideon are enthusiastic about -- and proud of -- their film. The pair can be a bit self-satisfied at times, but their remarks are generally informative and interesting.

The Birth of a Serial Killer: The Writing of Mr. Brooks (7:19) includes interviews with Evans, Gideon and Costner. It's a little disappointing to learn the degree of seriousness with which the writers approached the project, revealing they had set out to make a "moral" story that perceived Earl Brooks as a tragic figure.

On the Set of Mr. Brooks (9:29) is a standard-issue making-of featurette, of the everyone-did-a-splendid-job-and-we-made-a-really-special-film-and-gosh-we're-proud-of-it variety.

Six deleted scenes are worth a look. The filmmakers wisely scrapped a ridiculous episode in which Tracy Atwood hooks up with a male gigolo (she looks like Demi Moore, for God's sake!), but chopped out another scene in which the detective learns that the Thumbprint Killer carried residue of a substance used in pottery. If that bit of information had made the final cut, it would have better explained Atwood's inexplicable line of questioning to Mr. Smith in the third act. The aggregate running time for all six scenes is six minutes, 23 seconds.

A featurette entitled Murder on Their Minds: Mr. Brooks, Marshall and Mr. Smith (9:09) gives Costner, Hurt and Cook a chance to wax about what makes their respective characters tick.

Rounding out the bonus materials is a theatrical trailer and additional trailers of other flicks.

Final Thoughts:

Mr. Brooks is a passable serial-killer flick, boasting sleek production values, a few mild jolts and some interesting performances. Unfortunately, the filmmakers failed to flesh out some of their most provocative ideas, choosing instead to gorge on plotting. The result isn't a terrible movie, but it sure doesn't have a killer's instinct.

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