Brooks spends most of the film arguing with his phantom pal — it's less a serial-killer movie than a buddy picture — and trying to talk himself out of committing murder, which seems an awfully futile way to sell Costner's bad-guy turn. He killed more people as dreary do-gooder Eliot Ness in The Untouchables.
If only Mr. Brooks didn't take itself so seriously, and if only director Bruce Evans and writer Raynold Gideon — men known, if you can call it that, for having written Jungle 2 Jungle and Cutthroat Island — weren't trying so hard to make a point about the hereditary nature of addiction. Because that's all this is: a morality tale in which a father (Costner) passes along to his daughter (Danielle Panabaker) his killer genes and then tries to reverse the cycle of addiction, lest his little girl wind up as tortured as he claims to be. Costner's character is so barely fleshed out that he's little more than a bespectacled skeleton firing blanks at the audience's heads.
But Mr. Brooks is only half Costner's film; the rest belongs to Demi Moore, trying to reignite a career as something other than Ashton Kutcher's babysitter. She plays a police detective named Tracy Atwood, who's hunting for two serial killers — Costner's so-called Thumbprint Killer and a man who calls himself the Hangman (Matt Schulze), who, naturally, executes his victims and then leaves them swinging in public places. Atwood, whose boss says things like "I'll keep the F.B.I. out of it for three days," has her own personal problems. She's divorcing her second husband (Jason Lewis, Sex and the City's hunkariffic Smith), a restaurateur who wants to bite off a big chunk of the $60 million fortune she got from her wealthy old man. And, yes, if you too want to know why someone worth 60 mil would risk her life getting shot at by a guy named the Hangman, well, you're not the only one.
You might have looked forward to seeing Hurt and Costner finally occupy the same movie, almost 25 years after Costner's scenes were excised from The Big Chill. And then you might recall that Costner has never been better than he was as jive-talking gunslinger Jake in Lawrence Kasdan's Big Chill follow-up, 1985's retro Western Silverado. And then you might think, No, Costner was actually better in Bull Durham. And then you might start wondering how the man who was so wonderful so long ago as Crash Davis doesn't allow himself to be funny very often, noting that he's a rather clammy dramatic actor who seems to absorb all the life around him when he puts on his serious face. And then you might wonder of the guy who plays Brooks' wannabe protégé: Why the fuck is Dane Cook famous?