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Serial Killers:
The Method and Madness of Monsters
by Peter Vronsky
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
. "Mr. Brooks"

Departing from his iconic treatments of large scale, symbolic themes that too often wash out at the boxoffice ("Waterworld," "The Postman"), Kevin Costner takes a turn as a sophisticated serial killer. His Mr. Brooks is a highly successful CEO of a box making company who has a genetic addiction to kill people. A murder junkie.

Accompanying him, as a device to expose the killer's mind, is Brook's alter ego Marshall, played by another in-the-flesh actor (William Hurt). Call him Brook's evil subconscience, his dark side incarnated, the devil on his shoulder. Whatever you call him he's both Mr. Brook's most intimate companion and an adversary who argues against Brook's desire to stop the rampage that gives him so much pleasure.

The second primary character (counting Brooks and Marshall as one -- misters Brooks?), is detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore) occupying a subplot that's almost a co-plot. She's after the man she knows only as "The Fingerprint Killer" who has been quiet for two years and seems to have re-emerged with the double homicide of his intended victim and her lover having pretty explicit sex in her bedroom. No doubt about it being Brooks since his modus operandi is well documented--such as removing his bullets from the crime scene and leaving his victims' fingerprints in blood.

But Moore is a high-powered presence -- one you don't get if the role is a stereotype -- so a $60 mil inheritance and a nagging divorce settlement is created to add dimension to her role in providing a complication in her ability to fight crime. Ex-hubby and his designing femme counsel are trying to take her for every penny they can negotiate. S-s-s-s-s. The sharks are in the water, circling.

Perhaps for the first time in his career of dealing death, Mr. Brooks made a serious mistake this time. Being a methodical type who stakes out his victim with exquisite care, anticipating every contingency ahead of time -- a guy who encases his silenced gun in a plastic bag to capture the brass casing of the bullets -- he's mortified when Marshall points out that he executed the killing with the drapes open. And, there's a whole building of voyeurs in the big apartment building across the way.

Enter photographer Mr. Smith (Dane Cook), a sicko who's been telephotoing the lovemaking of his hot neighbor for some time. It's like having a pass to a porn theatre. This night, however, is not like any other night, and what he's recorded in sequenced detail is a murder in action.

Embarassing to a perfectionist, to say the least, imperturbable businessman Mr. Brooks isn't going to have his happy home with loving wife Emma (Marg Helgenberger) and gorgeous screw-up daughter Jane (Danielle Panabaker, a young Genevieve Bujold) disrupted... and he ain't going to jail. In this household, the issue at hand is Jane's sudden decision to quit college and return home. The love her father's life, she's not telling the dark truth behind her choice.

Photographer Smith, as it turns out, isn't threatening to take his evidence to the cops. All he wants for his silence is to accompany his lethal role model on his next kill. He expects to get off on it bigtime. The most disturbing thing to Brooks about this development is that he thought that it was over, that he'd taken his last life. He vowed as much, didn't he? Ah, well. Plans don't always go as planned, even to a guy with a homicide gene. (I thought the title should have been "Mr. Brooks' Brain.")

Lest you get the impression that I'm down on this movie, let me affirm that the movie, written and directed by Bruce A. Evans (with the feeling of many a re-write) essentially works for me. Yes, it's true that before the end the fatigue meter was registering pretty strongly, but if someone had tried to remove me from the theatre before it was over I would have put up a fight. Evans explores all the possibilities and permutations of a complex premise.

It might have gone better if the "take-no-prisoners" Ms. Moore was more sympathetic or if the cop character was just your average but clever uniform with a smaller marquee-value actress. But that's a far cry from rejecting the effort whole cloth.

Maybe I'm too tolerant of Costner's tendency toward self-indulgence with a story (producing and starring give him much to say about the direction and content of his scripts), but his "Mr. Brooks" moved along, held my interest and produced a fair amount of involvement. That's quite enough to leave the theatre with.

As for its commercial prospects, let's just say that it's not likely to put a significant dent into the receipts for "Spider-Man 3," "Shrek the Third," or the piratical adventures of Captain Jack Sparrow during the current cycle of tentpole hits.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Kevin Costner is Mr. Brooks
Studious about his killing.

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