The Daily Stream: 'Mindhunters' is a 2000s Thriller Movie Pizza with Extra Cheese07/27/2021
(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching, why it’s worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)
The Movie: Mindhunters
Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max
The Pitch: The FBI sends a group of young agents to a remote island for training in their psychological profiling division. Called “Mindhunters” (yes, just like the Netflix series), the elite unit tracks down serial killers. The training session goes wrong, however, when the group discovers a rogue serial killer in their midst. When you’re surrounded by people who know exactly how to cover their tracks, how can you trust anyone?
Why It’s Essential Viewing: Mindhunters is the quintessential mid-2000s mid-budget thriller. It stars a bunch of A-listers from the ’90s slumming it but still having a blast, and director Renny Harlin knows how to make a movie fun even if it’s not exactly good. Shot in the Netherlands to get some sweet Dutch tax breaks, Mindhunters feels like the kind of goofy action-thriller schlock we just don’t get anymore. There’s no winking self-awareness here, just a very silly movie that takes itself far too seriously, to our benefit.
I don’t really believe in the “it’s so bad it’s good” mentality, but I love Mindhunters for just how hard it buys into its own nonsense. Harlin is great at directing action with a fabulous sense of pacing, so the action sequences and editing are actually pretty great. The technical aspects are all pretty decent, too. It’s not an ugly or visually boring movie by any means, which is more than I can say for a lot of modern action blockbusters. The biggest problem Mindhunters has is its incredible cheesiness. There are ridiculous lines delivered without a hint of irony, plot twists that feel completely harebrained, and British actor Jonny Lee Miller hilariously attempts a Southern accent. It doesn’t work the way Harlan and co. intended, but that doesn’t stop it from being a boatload of fun.
Mindhunters is 106 minutes of Miller, Val Kilmer, Christian Slater, Clifton Collins Jr., Patricia Velasquez, and LL Cool J running around in a military training facility distrusting one another. There’s plenty of fun fake-outs and The Thing-style “which one of us is the killer” moments, and everyone is giving it their best. Yes, even Miller, unintentionally hilarious accent and all. You have to remember, these were once some of the most in-demand actors, and here they were delivering lines reminiscent of the kind of stuff you’d see on Mystery Science Theater. Lines like “I guess we found out his weakness: bullets,” and “Don’t forget, you’re 50 miles offshore so if you run out of toilet paper, you are shit out of luck.” Absolute bangers.
Mindhunters is loosely based on Agatha Christie‘s mystery novel And Then There Were None, though loosely is the keyword here. Christie’s novel about eight strangers trapped with a killer on a secluded island is a taut thriller with numerous unexpected twists and turns, and Mindhunters is mostly just a goofy, gory amusement park ride. It’s a microwave supreme pizza with a cheese-stuffed crust: it’s not gourmet and too much will clog your arteries, but it’s still pretty damn good.
One thing Mindhunters does get completely right is its makeup effects. There are numerous murder set pieces of varying theatricality (think TV’s Hannibal) and they’re all gorgeously gross. Harlan was adamant that the special effects be done as practically as possible, so there isn’t much in the way of bad CGI here. There’s just lots of blood and viscera which makes the stakes feel slightly higher. Plus, you know, it’s fun.
Harlin originally tried to edit the movie down to a PG-13 to gain a wider audience, but the MPAA was too unsettled by the murders. He then went back and re-edited Mindhunters to be a hard, violent R in response. Fans of Harlin’s other early work, like the Sylvester Stallone vessel Cliffhanger or his killer shark masterpiece Deep Blue Sea, will find a lot to love in Mindhunters.
Mindhunters captures a certain tone that doesn’t really exist outside of early ’00s cinema. There’s a grim seriousness combined with people doing their best to look cool, inspired by films like The Matrix and The Thirteenth Floor. Genre movies from this period tended to be ambitious and rely on the star power of their casts to carry them, and Mindhunters is a perfect example. It’s not a perfect movie by any means, but it’s a blast from start to finish.
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