A group of potential psychological profilers (including Eion Bailey, Clifton Collins Jr., Jonny Lee Miller, Christian Slater, Patricia Velasquez, and Kathryn Morris from TV's "Cold Case") have entered their final stage of training. Under the guidance of their teacher (Val Kilmer) and the supervision of a government official (LL Cool J), the team is sent to a temporarily abandoned military island for a weekend of sleuthing and testing. Once on the island, it soon becomes clear another person has joined them, and this person has the desire to kill them all off, one by one. Using their gifts for deduction, the squad must figure out who is trying to murder them, while the killer employs their paranoia and a gift for elaborate death traps to thin the herd.
"Mindhunters" (IMDb listing) is a cheesy pop thriller, lacking in general logic and character insight, but I expect nothing more from director Renny Harlin. Returning to the grisly semi-horror roots found in his early films "Prison" and "Nightmare on Elm Street 4," Harlin might not be the classiest filmmaker around, but he knows how to deliver on thrills and chills ("The Long Kiss Goodnight," "Die Hard 2"). "Mindhunters" plays to Harlin's strengths in that it doesn't add up to much and it features very little in the genuine surprise department, but it pulses with style and confidence, even when it doesn't have a clue how to figure itself out.
Hopping on the "CSI" bandwagon, the script by Wayne Kramer and Kevin Broadbin doesn't offer much new to the pool of forensic investigation, but they do use their R-rating to offer a much more gruesome account of how these professionals go about their business. However, don't expect a "CSI" level of factual representation. Harlin's only in this for the scares and complex murder set pieces. These sequences are the centerpiece of "Mindhunters," with the filmmakers taking great care to keep the shock value high (ouch, Mr. Slater!) and the suspense percolating. Through misdirection, questionable star billing, and a couple scenes of shameless fraud, Harlin manages to hide the identity of the killer fairly well, but the goal of the film isn't a whodunit, but howtheykeepdoingit.
The picture's long, drawn out climax says a lot more about Harlin's insistence on the preservation of the film's mystery than anything in the rest of the film, and it slows down the movie's energy to a crawl. The ensemble cast treats the Agatha Christie-lite material with a straight face (including a strong performance from newly minted star Morris), which always helps digest the picture's undesirable traits. Unfortunately, Harlin bungles their motivations in the final moments in an effort to draw out the suspense like a wet noodle being stretched by two bulldozers.
"Mindhunters" is popcorn filmmaking, and it would be a lot more effective if the plot and characters hadn't been exploited on the major television networks every week. But beneath the familiar aftertaste is a hard working thriller that, if it can't blow your mind, could very well entertain the hell out of it.
Filmfodder Grade: B