"Mindhunters," directed by the on-and-off Renny Harlin (2004's "Exorcist: The Beginning
"), might have been filmed nearly three years ago (it has been sitting on the shelf collecting dust as a series of potential release dates have passed it by), but it still has the unfortunate task of opening one week after the eerily reminiscent "House of Wax
." Both feature a group of characters in desolate surroundings being picked off one at a time by a savvy psycho character. Whereas the town in "House of Wax
" was populated entirely by wax figures, this one has mannequins galore and enough cats to make one think he or she is watching a sequel to 1992's "Sleepwalkers."
The difference in quality between the two pictures is just as glaring. As a movie placed firmly within the realm of the slasher genre, "House of Wax
" elicited a serious amount of excitement, gleeful violence, and goosebumps. It not only got the heart rate going, but made marvelously inventive use out of its setting. "Mindhunters," meanwhile, harkens back to the whodunits of Agatha Christie and also 1986's underappreciated "April Fool's Day," but is markedly less ingenious. While wasting its premise and most of its fairly impressive moody production design by Charles Wood (2003's "The Italian Job
"), it manages to come off as a dull and weirdly aloof waste of time. There is no necessary tension in "Mindhunters," no memorable characters, and no sense of fun. Instead, Renny Harlin just lines up his cast and knocks off their boring asses one at a time.
The setup for this eventual killing spree comes when a ragtag group of FBI crime profilers in training, including the determined Sara (Kathryn Morris), smooth-talking leader J.D. (Christian Slater), wheelchair-bound Vince (Clifton Collins Jr.), and sexy Nicole (Patricia Velasquez), are dropped off at a deserted island off the coast of North Carolina's Outer Banks. They are to spend the weekend participating in a simulated crime case where the fake culprit is a serial killer known only as The Puppeteer. This practice test quickly turns serious when they starting dropping off themselves, the victims of a real-like killer who may be among them. With no way off the islandtheir boat naturally explodesthe weekend turns into a fight for survival.
When "Mindhunters" is predictable, it is very, very predictable (the opening sequence twist, while being one of the more visually interesting set-pieces, is insultingly obvious, and the red herrings once the group gets to the island are sloppy, at best). When the dastardly villain is finally revealed at the end, it comes with an audience shrug, coupled with an eye-roll and a snicker when he or she conveniently rattles off their flimsy plan and motive to the remaining survivor(s). This is one dusty cliche of the mystery-horror genre that should have died with the "Scream
" trilogyno other movies have been able to do it nearly as well ever sinceand now it only feels convoluted and strained.
What is stuffed in between these opening and closing sections of "Mindhunters" is a thriller so drearily plotted and filmed that it may suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The typical boo scares are just thattypicaland the death scenes, while not just your garden variety stabbings and choppings, have been gutted and drained of all possible suspense. When they occur, not only does the viewer not care about the ill-fated characters, but they are so uninterestingly gory (no small feat) many audiences may just find their attention drifting to a grocery list or an upcoming social obligation.
The characters are unequivocally dull and the acting is no better save for the reliably self-deprecating Christian Slater (2005's "Alone in the Dark
"). As offbeat program mentor Jake Harris, at least Val Kilmer (2004's "Alexander
") has the good sense to make a quick appearance, get his easy money, and then disappear for almost the whole rest of the film. The dialogue clangs, tending to overexplain every plot element to the point of nausea. And if that weren't enough of the bad tidings, even the music score is inappropriate, overly goofy or overwrought when it should be more classically atmospheric, and thoroughly forgettable the rest of the time.
As a horror picture out to scare the viewer, "Mindhunters" fails, featuring only one moment of twisted inspiration (it involves a corpse being used as a puppet). The rest is just preposterously plotted and filled with unconvincing character motivations that fulfill the requirements of the thriller conventions without actually seeming like things the people on display actually would do. Is "Mindhunters" so bad that it deserved the incessant release date delays, courtesy of the now-threadbare Dimension Films? No. Is it a film that wouldn't have been missed even if it had remained on the shelf for years to come? Yes.