Mr. Brooks’ Stars Carve Up The Ham Between Them! By Sheldon Wiebe

Mr. Brooks - Movie ReviewEarl Brooks has it all – his box factory has made him wealthy; he has a gorgeous wife, and a beautiful daughter. He’s even won the Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year Award. What a pity, then that he’s addicted to murder…










Mr. Brooks opens with Earl Brooks [Kevin Costner] having an argument with Marshall [William Hurt] in the men’s room bust before he gets up to receive his Man of the Year Award from the Portland Chamber of Commerce. He is accompanied by his lovely wife, Emma [Marg Helgenberger], and is the charming, wholesome guy at the podium – where we discover that Marshall is actually the nasty side of his personality…

After the ceremony – and a stop for sundaes that doubles as a glimpse at Earl’s next targets – we follow the happy couple home and watch as Earl slips out to a private studio and carefully prepares the tools of the trade for his particular addiction: murder. Now fully prepared, Earl and Marshall head out to kill the couple they’ve chosen as their next victims. Everything goes smoothly until Marshall points out that the bedroom’s curtains are open – which leads to a slightly seedy fellow who calls himself Mr. Smith [Dane Cook] interrupting Earl’s reunion with his daughter, Jane [Danielle Panabaker], who has dropped out of university.

Smith has photos of Earl and the bodies of the deceased couple – but he doesn’t want to blackmail Earl! Oh, no… he wants Earl to take him along on his next kill! This raises a certain amount of mirth between Earl and Marshall, and leads to a series of events that blow up into so many plot points and character arcs that the film quickly becomes absurd – though in a darkly comic kind of way…

Let’s see now… There’s the cop who’s investigating the Thumbprint Killer [as Earl has come to be known], Detective Tracey Atwood [Demi Moore], who is worth sixty million dollars and seems to be the next target of an escaped killer she put behind bars and being sued for a settlement of six-to-seven figures by her soon-to-be-ex husband – said lawsuit prompting a nasty comment that results in a restraining order and the looming possibility of being stuck at a desk until the lawsuit is resolved. Then there’s The Hangman [Matt Schulze] and his vaguely gothic, mostly silent girlfriend – and their part in a truly odd decoy plan. And what about the murder of a man in Jane’s dorm just prior to her return home – and claim of pregnancy?

But wait! There’s more! Like the person Smith chooses as Earl’s next victim. Like the deaths that find Atwood’s boss having her brought in for questioning. Like Earl considering his need to kill an addiction and attending AA meetings to help control the urge…

As a movie, Mr. Brooks has a cool, dark look and an equally dark comic tone. The film is beautifully shot and well edited. The big problem is that plot points and character arcs pile on top of one another until they take the steam out of the film. While most of the script [co-written by director Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon] has its charms, the addition of the whole Hangman arc simply takes us out of the main story. Even the subplot about Jane is taken to a point that it really doesn’t earn. Plus, the attempt to explain why multi-millionaire Atwood is a cop is not exactly plausible…

Mr. Brooks is two hours long, and at least twenty minutes could’ve been pruned. In fact, removing the Hangman arc and editing the Jane arc would have made the film leaner, meaner and [probably] a lot more entertaining. Casting anyone else as Detective Atwood would have been a step in the right direction, too – Moore’s performance may well be the worst, or at least most wooden, of her career.

On the other hand, Costner and Hurt have a royally good time munching on the scenery. Even though Earl is tightly wound and repressed, Costner’s eyes give away the character’s raging intelligence as well as both the pain and the joy that killing people gives him. Hurt’s Marshall is Earl’s exact opposite – he revels in the hunt, the chase, and finally, the kill. As he puts it: “I enjoy eating. I enjoy f…ing. I enjoy killing!” And when Hurt proclaims his simple philosophy, his eyes literally shine.

For me, though, Dane Cook was a revelation. Mister Smith is a ruthless – though not terribly intelligent – opportunist, and Cook gives him a kind of sleepy nastiness that only peeks out at odd moments. He also has enough knowledge to fend off Atwood once she suspects that he knows something about the Thumbprint Killer – though one gets the feeling it was something he saw on television. Even his temper tantrum feels real.

Most of the supporting cast doesn’t really have much to do, but Reiko Aylesworth stands out as the lawyer who represents Atwood’s husband [and is having an affair with him], while Danielle Panabaker brings a semi-scatterbrained innocence to Earl’s daughter Jane. Marg Helgenberger, unfortunately, is wasted as Earl’s wife. At best, she is a symbol of the life Earl prefers to live.

Simply put, Mr. Brooks is a deeply flawed thriller. It has more than enough winning moments in its darkly twisted and comic undercurrents, and a couple of terrific jump moments. Pitting jewels against flaws, the movie is worth seeing – though it’s a long way from becoming a classic.

Final Grade: B-

EM Review by
Sheldon Wiebe
Posted 6/01/07


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