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Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit

. "Mindhunters"

The main challenge in this movie is in counting all the ways in which it's deficient. Its attempt to create a mind game in which a secret killer is knocking off his or her colleagues is hindered by a mind that's severely handicapped by lack of the talent necessary to pull it off.

Not that Finish director Renny Harlin ("Die Hard 2," "Cliffhanger") and South African writer Wayne Kramer (the excellent "The Cooler") don't give it a responsible try. After all, this isn't about a bowling league. The game is being waged by a group of (supposed) cream-of-the-crop FBI profilers brought to a remote island for a shot of high-level training. The challenge is there.

Jake Harris (Val Kilmer) is the challenger. As chief of the Investigative Support Unit, aka, "Mindhunters," it's his idea to employ unorthodox methods of training. He sets up a model city of miscreants to simulate real world threats and helicopters his team of trainees for a few days of capturing bad guys by the cleverness of their profiling, and then submitting them to a critique at the end.

Leading the pack is J.D. Reston (Christian Slater) who seems to have a solid handle on analyzing patterns of behavior. Close behind are Sara Moore (Kathryn Morris), a testy blond; Nicole Willis (Patricia Velasquez), a dark haired exotic who is Reston's secret squeeze. Gabe Jensen (LL Cool J) is the only one brought to the island who isn't a profiler but he's there to observe and to suggest a hidden agenda, making him the prime suspect when the bodies start falling. Eion Bailey ("Almost Famous"), Clifton Collins Jr. ("The Last Castle") and Will Kemp ("Van Helsing") round out the team.

Once his class of trainees are oriented and charges with their mission, agent Harris flies off the island and, for the most part, out of the film. The next great loss is Reston, who stands in front of a tank of liquid nitrogen in order to be iced to death. I'd say he was complicit in his own murder. In any case, he's gone for good from the picture and it's barely the first act! Which, in itself, is most peculiar. What, these guys only had a one week window in their schedule and their marquee value too good to pass up?

What they leave behind is a one-by-one annihilation of the law enforcement smarties who should be able to outwit booby traps devised to go off according to the time on wrist watches found in and around corpses. Theseto jury rigged contrivances of death, range from cleverly intricate to laughably inept in their method of lethality.

All of which becomes so ludicrous and unbelievable it becomes a test of the attention span. Just when you're beginning to lose interest in the trumped up mystery of who the real killer might be, and think that no one person, however depraved and technically proficient, could pull off this series of stunts, the revelation at the end flattens it like a bad joke.

It's a show based on formulaic deception and overconceived methods of murder, spiced up with near cameo appearances by two high priced talents. The grunt work of grinding out the rest of the screenplay, despite several strong performances (LL Cool J is, indeed, cool and precise), fails to generate much more character bonding than "Scream" and its derivatives. The result of this failure of cleverness is a killer thriller exploit that will hold some appeal for audiences that tense up in enjoyment at every fresh spurt of blood and ask for little more.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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LL Cool J as the mysterious non-FBI Profiler,
In the lead, hunting for the real killer

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