‘Mr. Brooks’

There's something about Earl, I mean Kevin!


The serial-killer genre that gave us characters as diversely memorable as Dr. Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) and “Serial Mom” (Kathleen Turner), had been on the wane. Murder-as-entertainment was no longer a novelty — in terms of body count, any franchise horror movie could up the numbers in a fraction of the screen time, and often with more creativity. (Anyone for “Saw?”) And after “Kill Bill,” it felt like we’ve been through the whole long menu in terms of senseless, gratuitous, excessively stylized violence. Been there, done that. Thanks but we’ll pass on dessert.

But here’s a heads-up to nostalgic, serial killer fans. Thanks to the efforts of Kevin Costner, a much-needed gust of second wind is whirling in the genre. Meet Earl Brooks (Costner): successful CEO of a box-manufacturing company, devoted family man . . . and deranged murderer. Earl’s secret closet contains his “killer” outfits of identical black jackets, pants, gloves and shoes. He always vacuums his victims’ houses and apartments, partly to clear up any forensic evidence, but mostly because he’s obsessively tidy. Earl presides over his murder scenes like a meticulous housekeeper cum artist; joyfully he wipes blood stains from a banister rail and then raises one arm in a graceful balletic arc. Earl is also not without a sense of humor. When one of the “urges” hits during the night, he tells beautiful wife Emma (Marg Helgenberger) that he’s “off to the factory to play with some glaze.” That Earl has just been awarded Man of the Year of Portland Ore., adds an extra dollop of something sticky and black.

Mr. Brooks
Director Bruce A. Evans
Run Time 98 minutes
Language English

Director/writer Bruce A. Evans isn’t trying for anything new and in many ways “Mr. Brooks” is a cozy retread of all that had worked about cinematic serial killers, say 15 years ago. The dual personality, the meticulous attention to detail, the totally unsuspecting family, neighbors and colleagues, the intelligence that keeps baffling the police. Earl Brooks has them all, and he’s also saddled with an alter ego named Marshall (William Hurt) who appears periodically to whisper enticements and egg him on to the next killing spree. Marshall is an antibuddy whom Earl despises but cannot do without — their conversations bubble with understated, inspired sarcasm. “Listen to me, Earl” whispers Marshall to Earl as he’s driving home from the office. “Like you, I like living. I like to eat, I like to f**k, I like to kill. That’s just . . . life!” In his saner moments Earl wants to stop. He recognizes that his particular habit is an addiction and to combat it attends AA Meetings. Huh? Maybe he feels that listening to other peoples’ addiction problems will bring some measure of peace, if not of proportion. He certainly finds solace in reciting the Serenity Prayer (“God grant me the strength . . . “) at every opportunity. Still, prayers don’t really prepare him for the snag of discovering that his college student daughter (Danielle Panabaker) may be a) pregnant, and b) a murderer, just like her dad. What now, a ritual passing of the keys to his secret closet? A father-daughter discussion on the use of the rope vs. the knife?

Earl is old-school and a little silly but he’s extremely watchable – when he’s not in the frame the film begins to sag and the seams come apart. Especially wearing on the senses is the presence of Demi Moore as Detective Tracy Atwood, Earl’s nemesis. Tracy is THIS CLOSE to closing the net around Earl apparently, but she’s forever getting distracted by personal problems, namely a slacker gigolo husband (Jason Lewis) who’s demanding a huge alimony settlement from their divorce. Why the filmmakers decided to include this cumbersome subplot is a mystery, since Moore is clearly not relishing the position and seems achingly stiff and wooden. Although seeing all these 80s stars gather in one vehicle, spewing about sex and blood and murder (in Italian designer garb no less), is a monumental testimony to stuff like fitness and antiaging. Demi Moore for one, looks covered in a sheen that could perhaps be described as spandex and raw collagen. But in terms of pure joy of living, she simply doesn’t compare to William Hurt. Mincing and prancing around Earl’s crime scenes like an oily and oversized imp, Hurt is having the time of his life. And as he keeps assuring Earl, “that’s all that matters!”