Make It Stop: MR. BROOKS

So many characters with so much trite, stupid back story. So many serial killers. So many twists. So many dropped storylines. Such a weak-ass ending. Meet MR. BROOKS.

Kevin Costner definitely gives it the old college try, you know? You can tell he thinks this shit is pretty cool. He rocks the middle America blandness that masks Mr. Brooks’ bleak depths. The thing is that by casting William Hurt as Mr. Brooks’ violent, sexual id, Hurt is the only one having any fun in the movie, while Coster just gets to be bland white bread. Demi Moore is joyless and paper-thin in a role with an inexplicable amount of screen time. With a better actress or a better script, the audience might care about the detective obsessively haunting Mr. Brooks’ steps, but this isn’t The Fugitive and Demi Moore is no Tommy Lee Jones. We don’t care. And Dane Cook is DANE FUCKING COOK. Of every baffling decision the director made in the writing, casting and production of this film that he ostensibly wants to succeed, hiring the sapless comedian for such a hefty role earns the biggest WTF? of all.

I suspect there could be a better film lurking within Mr. Brooks’ labyrinth of plot twists and character reveals. Not a good movie, mind you, but a solid thriller. The technical elements of the film are fine, unremarkable most of the time except during the action sequences when the filmmakers resort to what I like to call “the shit” editing. No, I don’t mean “this editing is the shit!”, but rather that it makes the viewers feel as if we were in the shit and now we’re all suffering from Vietnam flashbacks. The soundtrack is also firmly planted in the 90s, made up almost entirely of generic techno. Other than William Hurt’s exuberant display, the performances all range from boring to tragic. But the script is the real calamity here. There are at least two decent premises in the film, but writer/director Bruce A. Evans decided it might be fun to also stuff six or seven bad premises in the mix, resulting in a weird, murky pile of twist! after twist! after twist! So let’s peel back the layers and see what we see, shall we?

(Fair warning: this movie came out four years ago, and also it’s stupid, so I’m about to do some spoiling.)

We open on a title card, white on black: “The hunger has returned to Mr. Brooks’ brain. It never really left.” Yay! This movie is hilarious from go.

We hear Kevin Costner muttering the Serenity Prayer over a photo of naked dead people, interrupted by William Hurt’s voice whispering things like “Why do you fight it so hard? You’ve been a good boy.” He’s at a gala hosted by the Portland Chamber of Commerce, honoring him as Man of the Year. He’s a stand-up guy! Later, in their sweet Lexus, Mrs. Brooks (Marg Helgenberger) gives us some easy exposition: Daughter Brooks is in college, she skipped the Man of the Year gala, it seems like she’s going to drop out of school, Mr. Brooks thinks she can do no wrong. William Hurt leans forward from the shadowy backseat to coo some instigation in Mr. Brooks’ ear. “You want to do it! Tonight’s the night! You’re the fucking man of the year! You deserve this!” Mr. Brooks tells “Marshall,” as this is the name of his invisible dark passenger, “I said no.” Marshall replies, “You SAY no, but you don’t MEAN no. Pwetty pwease!” This last bit of compelling argument does the trick. Mr. Brooks asks Mrs. Brooks if she’d like to stop for something sweet.

From a dessert cafe, Marshall spies on a couple dancing in a studio while Mr. and Mrs. Brooks enjoy their ice cream. Later, Mr. Brooks rocks and cries and prays in a bathroom. He does an obscene amount of praying and crying in bathrooms in this movie. It’s also worth noting that Mr. and Mrs. Brooks actually refer to themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Brooks, in that “cute” way of married olds in movies.

Mr. Brooks has a ceramics studio where he keeps a whole bunch of identical sneaky clothes and shoes. He changes into a sneaky outfit and drives off in a sneaky, anonymous Toyota. He then sneakily breaks into the dance couple’s apartment, holding a gun in a plastic bag. They have typical movie sex. Mr. Brooks kills them SUPER LOUDLY. I mean, Mr. Brooks himself is being quiet and stealthy, but once he starts shooting and the techno soundtrack kicks in, it’s crazy loud. The volume variation in this movie is wack. Anyway, we’ve reached our first TWIST! Mr. Brooks is a motherfucking killer. You should know that Kevin Costner makes the bold acting choice of getting all orgasmically shivery after he gets his murder on. It’s not a good look for him. He meticulously cleans up the joint, because he’s a brilliant, fastidious, uncatchable serial killer who’s been doing this for years—although he’s tried to stop!—but he forgot to close the curtains before he murdered the sexy exhibitionist couple. Maybe he wants to get caught? (TWIST!) Marshall, however, does not. He makes Mr. Brooks close the curtains. Too late, Marshall! Mr. Brooks takes pictures of the sexy carnage.

Later, Mr. Brooks enters his pottery studio and develops his snuff pics in a dark room. HE IS NAKED, by the way. Remember when you saw the season four premiere of Dexter and you thought, “Gah, John Lithgow’s bare ass is terrifying.”? It’s like that, except not fun at all. Costner does his orgasmic shiver again and I seriously consider turning off the movie. After lusting over the photos, he burns them in the kiln, Marshall all the while purring murderous bon mots in his ear. “Now go upstairs and make love to your beautiful wife,” Marshall advises. Blurgh.

The next day! Detective Atwood (Demi Moore) reads a paper with the headline “The Hangman Escapes.” And we have our first glimpse of serial killer number two! Atwood and Other Cop are investigating the dance couple’s apartment, and the movie tries very hard to convey that she is uncannily perceptive and misses nothing. I remain unconvinced. Atwood thought the “Thumbprint Killer” (he leaves bloody thumbprints of the victims at the scene) was dead or retired, because this is the first murder in two years. The bodies have been re-arranged, the woman’s head resting in the guy’s crotch. Atwood says this is cruder than the killer’s usual, more romantic tableaux. “He must have been angry at them for some reason.” She does her asshole version of Dale Cooper, sniffing around the place, making logical leaps, acting smug. She gets served by a processor and we learn more than anyone needs to know about her personal life in one long, unprofessional, potty-mouthed rant about her scumbag ex-husband’s lawyer. Not the first ex-husband, the other one.

Mr. Brooks attends AA meetings to keep the darkness at bay, all the while Marshall ranting at him for being a fucking hypocrite. Mr. Brooks isn’t going to kill ever again. This is about 15 minutes into the movie, so we’ll see how that turns out. We get to see Mr. Brooks at work: he owns a box company. He says the words “box business” a lot and I laugh. His college freshman daughter, the utterly forgettable Danielle Panabaker, shows up in a cab to tell him she dropped out of school. She hangs onto his neck, their faces centimeters apart, for several minutes too long. Then she sits on his lap for several more minutes. She wants to live at home, pay no rent or bills, and she refuses to live by a curfew or rules. She loaned a friend her BMW; she’s not sure when she’ll get it back. Meet Jane Brooks. She sucks so much. She tells him she’d like to take over the family box business (heh) one day, and she takes his glasses off his face and puts them on hers. It’s a metaphor! He playfully spanks her bottom when she gets up from his lap, and the whole thing is just abominably gross and wrong. The whole time, Marshall is whispering that Jane isn’t telling Mr. Brooks something. Like maybe that it makes her uncomfortable when her father touches her ass.

Mr. Brooks’ rude-ass assistant interrupts this inappropriate father-daughter moment to bring him an envelope from the gentleman in the lobby. Mr. Brooks opens the envelope to find pictures of himself in the dance couple’s bedroom. TWIST! The photographer? None other than Dane Cook, looking pasty and priggish and far too pleased with himself. (I’m reading the screenplay as a dialogue refresher, and it describes the character as “pleasant looking.” He isn’t. I didn’t realize until this very moment that he was supposed to be.) 

They meet in the conference room; Dane Cook refers to himself as “Mr. Smith.” He tells Mr. Brooks that he doesn’t want money; he was simply taking pics of his exhibitionist neighbors for future jacking material, as you do, and when he saw Mr. Brooks kill them, he got all orgasmically shivery himself. He wants to go kill someone with Mr. Brooks! TWIST! We have (potential) serial killer number three! Mr. Smith wants to find a victim with Mr. Brooks and murder the victim together…and soon. Kevin Costner gives one of several bizarre, intensely blank line readings with, “I feel I must warn you. Killing can be very addictive. It can RUIN YOUR LIFE.” Mr. Smith’s all, “Eh, whatever. Let’s do this.”

An interminable court mediation scene gives us the following unwanted insight into Atwood’s personal life: she’s super rich, her second ex-husband is a cartoonishly smug Jason Lewis and he wants a hefty divorce settlement despite the fact that he cheated on her. Atwood hopes he dies in a fire, nobody cares. Oh, also Meeks/aka the escaped Hangman from the news/aka serial killer number two is after her because she put him away. For some dumb, illegal reason, Atwood’s boss is pressuring her to settle the divorce as quickly as possible, making her sit at a desk until it’s settled.

Mr. Brooks breaks into Mr. Smith’s apartment in the middle of the night and scares the shit out of him, then literally disappears into the darkness, the security chain on the door making it clear that he can’t have gone out the door. Mr. Smith murmurs, “Wow.” It is so, so stupid.

The next day, Mrs. Brooks is giving Jane Brooks a hard time for dropping out of college. Jane reveals that she’s pregnant. TWIST! Jane wants an abortion; Mr. Brooks isn’t having that. He’s all, “It’ll be super fun to have a grandbaby around! We’ll raise her!” without consulting Mrs. Brooks at all, who looks like she might vom. Jane magnanimously replies, “If it means that much to you, I’ll think about it.” She sucks so much. Mr. Brooks says to Mrs. Brooks, “Looks like we’re going to have to start getting up much earlier in the mornings.” What he doesn’t say is “By ‘we’ I mean ‘you,’ because you’re the woman.” He sucks too.

Demi Moore continues her exceptionally penetrating investigation into the Thumbprint Killer while being stalked by Meeks/The Hangman and his manly girlfriend. She questions Dane Cook and he covers pretty well, but she sees the photography equipment in his apartment and becomes suspicious. He gives her card to Mr. Brooks, who’s rattled that she’s on his trail. Together, Mr. Brooks and Mr. Smith (and Marshall) decide to kill a truck-driving asshole who cuts them off in traffic. It’s a solid choice. Mr. Brooks and Marshall do some unlikely hacking into police personnel files to discover more unwanted insight into Atwood’s life: she’s got $60 million in the bank from her father (TWIST!), she’s been divorced twice, she’s seeing a shrink, she’s caught a lot of guys, including Meeks. Marshall’s scared that she’s a cop who doesn’t need money; Mr. Brooks admires it. God almighty, this movie spends SO MUCH TIME on Demi Moore. She and her attorney do a lot of divorce speak on the sidewalk until she’s randomly abducted into a van by Meeks and his manly girlfriend. The volume gets insanely loud again! The van speeds through the city with the door swung open, swerving through crowded streets, and Atwood struggles while Meeks tries to do something unclear to her! Atwood yells, “SHOOT ME! COME ON AND SHOOT ME, MOTHERFUCKER!” It’s exciting, if totally random and irrelevant. All of a sudden the van makes a sharp turn and Atwood’s thrown from the van a hundred feet into a parked cab, landing directly on her spine. It looks as if it should paralyze her, but later she’s brazenly chatting her way through scalp sutures, so she seems relatively okay.

Mr. Brooks, Marshall and Mr. Smith are stalking the truck-driving asshole. By some fully implausible twist of fate, Meeks and his manly girlfriend are in the same parking lot as the truck-driving asshole, and Mr. Brooks decides to kill him instead, I think? This part is nebulous, even in the screenplay. Mr. Smith is pouty that he keeps getting jerked around. He wants to kill someone NOW, dammit! He stalks off and Marshall wins my eternal love and devotion by musing, “Even if that guy was charming and funny, I still wouldn’t like him.” It’s satisfying because William Hurt is talking about Dane Cook, although to be fair, the same could be said about this entire movie.

Okay, shit’s finally about to get awesomely retarded. Mr. Brooks returns home to find cops waiting for him. They want to talk to Jane! There was a murder in her dorm, and her BMW was involved. She tells the cops it was stolen, but Mr. Brooks knows better. TWIST! Jane Brooks is our serial killer number four! She killed some guy (her baby’s father, one presumes) WITH A HATCHET. So beautifully, blissfully stupid! Mr. Brooks cries and prays in the kitchen instead of the bathroom for once. “She has what I have! It’s my fault!’ Marshall’s like, “Dude, she is almost definitely going to kill you next. So she can take over the box business. Let her go to jail.” Mr. Brooks decides instead to cover Jane’s sloppy, murderous ineptitude, so he gathers some fake ID documents from his ceramics studio and then heads to Stanford, donning increasingly hilarious disguises as he does so. First, on the plane out there, he looks like Billy Ray Cyrus in a Canadian tuxedo. Then, carrying a hatchet in a duffle bag on the Stanford campus, he pulls off Jeff Foxworthy in a snap button shirt and cargo pants. Finally, on his way home, he’s a full-bearded, silver-haired professor with a cane. It is absolutely delightful, my friends.

In the meantime, Mr. Smith is angry and petulant at being stood up for his murder date, and he almost comes clean to Detective Atwood’s astonishingly insightful questioning, but he doesn’t. The interrogation scene between Demi Moore and Dane Cook is riveting, y’all. A true battle of the wits. Atwood continues to look for Meeks, and there’s a whole scene lifted from some other, possibly even worse serial killer movie where she’s strutting around Meeks’ apartment with a gun while some more insanely loud music plays, and a dummy in a noose falls from the ceiling somehow with a note that says “Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha.” I don’t understand! I honestly do not understand what Meeks has to do with this movie.

Side note: you know what would make Mr. Brooks so much better? If Dane Cook and Jane and Meeks all had inner ids like William Hurt following them around, and all the dark passengers met up periodically and pedeconferenced.

Anyway, Mr. Brooks decides out of fucking nowhere that he wants Mr. Smith to kill him. TWIST! Marshall doesn’t like this idea; I don’t either, because it means Dane Cook wins. Mr. Brooks tells Jane that another hatchet murder occurred in her dorm, so cops are investigating a serial killer and Jane is off the hook, since she was in Portland. Jane’s like, “Oh, okay. Cool.” She sucks so much! Mr. Brooks creepily asks her if she loves him, and she dully replies in the affirmative. Mr. Brooks leaves a suicide note on his computer, telling his family that he has a terminal disease and he can’t live with the pain. He picks up Mr. Smith and they head to the prospective victim’s house. Mr. Smith is highly stoked to finally get to murder somebody, anybody at all. TWIST! The victim is Atwood’s sleazy ex-husband, and he’s TWIST! sleeping with his hot lawyer. As they break in, Mr. Smith immediately fucks up Mr. Brook’s immaculate M.O., actually pissing all over the floor in his fear and excitement. And he keeps whispering, “I have to take a crap so bad,” to which Mr. Brooks hilariously and calmly replies, “We won’t be here long.” Sleazy ex-husband and hot lawyer are DEAD! Mr. Smith is jubilant. But TWIST! Mr. Smith is planning on killing Mr. Brooks anyway, and yet he doesn’t seem to like the plan when it comes from Mr. Brooks. Mr. Brooks takes Mr. Smith to a cemetery he owns. Box business founder, philanthropist, potter, serial killer, family man and cemetery owner. Mr. Brooks has a lot of fingers in a lot of pies. They walk to an open grave with the plan that Mr. Smith will shoot Mr. Brooks who will then fall into the open grave, and Mr. Smith will cover him with dirt. Mr. Smith aims his gun and it misfires. TWIST! Mr. Brooks wasn’t 100% sure he’d want Mr. Smith to kill him, so he bent his firing pin. (What?) But, TWIST! Mr. Brooks brought another, working gun in case he does want Mr. Smith to kill him. But, TWIST! Mr. Brooks just now decided he wants to see his grandbaby grow up, so he picks up a shovel and SHOVELS MR. SMITH RIGHT IN THE FUCKING NECK. Mr. Smith starts gushing blood from below his pasty head, stumbling around the cemetery, all, “WHYYYY?” It is at least decently rad.

At the same time (for the love of christ!), Atwood is entering Mr. Smith’s apartment with a warrant, which is TWIST! totally empty of belongings. But there’s an invoice from the moving company with Mr. Smith’s new address on it. But first, Other Cop arrives and TWIST! He tries to haul Atwood in for questioning in the death of her sleazy ex-husband and his hot lawyer, seeing as how she’s always telling anyone who will listen that she wants to murder them. So Atwood punches Other Cop like a crazy person (what?!) and heads to the address on the invoice where TWIST! Meeks and his manly girlfriend appear! (Wait, what?) And the soundtrack gets insanely loud again, what with the techno and the shooting. Even though they encounter each other from a distance of approximately five feet in a narrow hallway, Meeks and his manly girlfriend’s thousands of shots do not hit Atwood once. She manages to land a couple on both of them, and then TWIST! Meeks kills his manly girlfriend and then himself, blessedly leaving us with one less useless, haphazard storyline.

Okay! It’s almost over! Mr. Brooks sits in a cafe chatting with Marshall, telling him he doesn’t intend to kill again. Marshall is understandably skeptical. Mr. Brooks reads a newspaper article trumpeting the resolution of the Thumbprint Killer’s case, because Dane Cook left a pool of piss at the sleazy ex-husband’s house. I wouldn’t exactly call that “resolved,” since nobody will ever find Mr. Smith’s body, but I guess it makes a good headline. Mr. Brooks steals a cell phone and randomly heads to a roof to call Atwood and ask her, in the most non-sequitury non-sequitur of the entire movie, why she decided to become a cop. He tells her that he killed her ex-husband and his hot lawyer and sent Atwood to Meeks’ apartment (TWIST!) as a gift, and she realizes that the pissing Mr. Smith is not the Thumbprint Killer. Atwood answers his question, so that we may receive yet even more unwanted insight into her personal life: her dad always wanted a son or some shit.

Mr. Brooks enters his sleeping daughter’s room and creepily gazes at her, then leans over to give her a kiss on the cheek. And then BADASS TWIST! Jane stabs him right in the neck with a pair of scissors! He bleeds profusely all over her princessy bedroom, reaching yearningly for his daughter as she coldly backs away. After he shudders to his lonely death on her bed, she calmly removes his glasses and slips them onto her own face. It’s a metaphor!

Not bad, right? That’s a fully righteous end to this meaningless jackass of a movie, and it goes a long way toward redeeming itself.

But wait…TWIST! That was a dream. No, really. Mr. Brooks awakes in bed next to his wife, looking shaken. He starts praying again and the credits roll. Ughhhhh. Why, I ask you? Leaving aside the fact that “it was all a dream!” is a supremely lame narrative device, I cannot even wrap my brain around writer/director Evans thinking it’s a good idea to negate the only cool, surprising moment of the entire film. Unforgivable.

So many characters with so much trite, stupid back story. So many serial killers. So many twists. So many dropped storylines. Such a weak-ass ending. Meet Mr. Brooks. But there’s a reason Mr. Brooks can’t die at the end even though we’re not even slightly invested in him as a character: the writer/director is planning a trilogy. May I make some suggestions for the sequels? The second film should be called Jane Brooks and somehow make the daughter matter in the goddamn slightest. Mr. Brooks can tutor Jane in the art of serial killing with competence, and Jane can get her own dark passenger, played by Sarah Jessica Parker. Atwood starts investigating her murders while yet another one of the serial killers she’s put behind bars escapes and stalks her, and her other ex-husband sues her for support, so the second movie can be exactly like this movie in every way except for the smallest particulars. Kind of like Back to the Future II, but with serial killers. And the third movie will of course be called Baby Brooks, where Jane’s baby grows up to also become a serial killer. What this trilogy really needs are more serial killers. Mrs. Brooks should be a serial killer. Atwood, too! Mr. Brooks’ bitchy assistant at the box company, Other Cop, Atwood’s attorney: all serial killers! Get to work, Bruce A. Evans. We’re breathless with anticipation.

You can read more from Meredith at www.dannyisnthere.com.

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