Mr. Brooks is Portland's Man of the Year. He's one of those fiftyish, effortlessly charming multi-millionaires who wears a tuxedo as easily as most of us don sweats.
Mr. Brooks has a hugely successful business, and an adoring and gorgeous wife of 20-plus years who still banters with him and flirts with him as if they're on a fourth date.
Mr. Brooks has a whip-smart and beautiful daughter in college. He has never been able to discipline her with any real authority because he believes she is just about perfect.
Mr. Brooks has a home that would make the editors of Architectural Digest tremble. There's even a studio out back where he makes pottery.
Mr. Brooks has a best friend. His name is Marshall, and he pops into Mr. Brooks' life all the time, offering counsel and urging Mr. Brooks to indulge in their mutual passion.
That passion would be thrill killing.
Every now and then, Mr. Brooks puts on one of his stylish, all-black assassin's get-ups (he's got a closet filled with them, like some kind of evil superhero), picks out one of his favorite guns and goes into the night to kill a pre-selected victim or victims.
Marshall is imaginary, and he is the devil on Mr. Brooks' shoulder. He's the most nefarious not-really-there alter ego this side of Brad Pitt in "Fight Club."
Kevin Costner made his fame and fortune playing easygoing anti-heroes in films from "Field of Dreams" to "Tin Cup" to "The Upside of Anger," but sometimes those noble good guys are kinda boring. He's much more interesting in darker and violent fare such as "Revenge," "A Perfect World" and "Open Range."
As Earl Brooks, Costner gives one of the best performances of his career as an insanely conflicted man who so is torn between his faith and his bloodlust, between his family and his need to kill, that his dark side has manifested itself in the form of an entire person whom only Earl can see and hear. He has conversations with Marshall as often as he chats with his wife.
If someone wanted to make the argument that "Mr. Brooks" is one of the worst movies of the year, I could see the point. There are so many outlandish plot complications and so many shifts in tone that one can imagine some viewers walking out of the theater in surrender.
I found it to be a classic guilty pleasure -- a great-looking, weirdly compelling thriller with two pedal-flooring performances from Costner and William Hurt, who plays Marshall and puts deliciously nefarious spins on even the most innocent lines. They may have been chuckling at some of this material in their trailers, but they give it the full sell onscreen.
If "Mr. Brooks" concentrated on the Earl-Marshall dynamic and told us how this seemingly normal and highly respected man became a killing machine -- that would be enough for a movie. A serious movie.
But there's hardly any focus on Earl's backstory. Instead, director and co-writer Bruce A. Evans throws all kinds of madness at us, including:
- The wooden-acting Demi Moore as a super-detective who happens to be worth tens of millions of dollars (it's a long story) and is going through a contentious divorce with her smug boy-toy of an estranged husband.
- A substantial supporting role handed to the inexplicably popular comic Dane Cook, who I must admit is very effective here as the peeping-Tom neighbor of two of the murder victims. He captures Mr. Brooks on film, but does he go to the cops or try to blackmail Mr. Brooks? No -- this skeevy idiot wants to accompany Mr. Brooks on his next murder mission.
- There's an escaped serial killer bent on killing Moore. At one point they get involved in a high-decibel shootout that's like something out of "Smokin' Aces."
- Mr. Brooks' teenage daughter (Danielle Panabaker) drops out of college and shows up at his office, where she sits on his lap and coos in his ear like she's been majoring in Nabokov. She's also pregnant, maybe, and she's spouting all kinds of lies about the circumstances of her departure from school. Daddy begins to wonder if his little girl has inherited his taste for sport-murder.
At times "Mr. Brooks" veers from the perplexing to the ridiculous. We even get one of those hoary "It was only a dream" moments, placed far too deep into the film and played for a cheap shock. That stuff went out the window with "Carrie."
And yet here I am telling you I liked this film, and I'm urging you, with reservations, to see it. While acknowledging the plot is often a mess, I have to admit I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish, thanks in great part to the work of Costner and Hurt, and the stylish direction of Evans.
Unlike all those slasher movie serial killers in their heavy raincoats, and all those overacting movie serial killers with their bedroom shrines and their penchant for lighting candles and brooding to eerie music, Mr. Brooks wears tortoise-shell glasses and runs a big company, and does a ton of community work. He kills for the hobby of it. He's the most respectable monster you'd ever hope not to meet.