MR. BROOKS (Bruce A. Evans, 2007)
Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner) is a devoted husband, doting father, and the Portland Chamber of Commerce's Man of the Year. He commands so much respect that he is unfailingly referred to as Mr. Brooks. Underneath this veneer of family values and civic responsibility is the heart and mind of a serial killer in MR. BROOKS.
Mr. Brooks' murderous side is manifested in the form of Marshall (William Hurt), his bloodthirsty id who begs for him to kill again. Mr. Brooks has been able to smother that impulse for two years, but all that pent-up energy has to escape. He kills a dance couple in the throes of love-making and follows his meticulous cleaning plan to remove any trace of his presence in their home. What he doesn't notice in time is that his victims were exhibitionists who left the curtains open.
Detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore) may not have any leads on The Thumbprint Killer, as Mr. Brooks is tagged in the press, but an amateur photographer who lives in the apartment building by the dancers has him dead to rights. The man calls himself Mr. Smith (Dane Cook). He shows Mr. Brooks the pictures he snapped that fateful night. Mr. Smith doesn't want to extort money, though. He got such a charge from seeing the killings that he wants Mr. Brooks to take him the next time he murders someone.
Unlike other serial killer films, which portray their anti-heroes as elegant monsters and are seduced by their evil actions, MR. BROOKS makes no bones about the corrosive effect that murder has on the character's soul. Mr. Brooks refers to his need to kill as an addiction. Costner carries the burden in a glum performance that is lightened only with the climaxes Mr. Brooks gets from taking the lives of others. Similarly, the film takes a matter of fact approach to the murders, depicting them as a means to an end and not something intrinsically pleasurable except for the character. The modicum of restraint used to show the killings is welcome at a time when the trend in horror is to wallow in the vilest depictions of violence, often for humor.
Like its title figure, MR. BROOKS' internal conflict leads to messy results. Where the character cannot maintain well-adjusted behavior over sociopathic indulgences, the film fails to strike a balance between the serious and outlandish. The tortured Mr. Brooks doesn't mesh with Hurt's scenery chewing or the woefully miscast Cook. At times director Bruce A. Evans reaches for dark comedy--Marshall is like the child begging the parent for something at the grocery store--but it's out of tune with the film's grave tone. Mr. Smith is supposed to be nervous and incompetent, but with his eager to please demeanor, Cook is hard to take seriously.
The same goes for the ridiculous plot points bursting from this overstuffed film. Evans races to join the dangling threads, but he would have been better off cutting them. Moore's multi-millionaire detective is in the midst of an acrimonious divorce and being stalked by a serial killer who broke out of jail. The subplot with Mr. Brooks' college dropout daughter has some potential but is more the stuff of sequels.
Mr. Brooks conducts himself with precision and care, yet the film has a decidedly ragged feel, most noticeably at the end. What appears to be a jolting conclusion in keeping with the film's cold-blooded nature is ripped away with a cop-out ending bearing fingerprints that suggest test marketing is to blame. The last scene isn't the time for a dark movie to opt for the comparatively lighter alternative.