“Mindhunters” has one of those irresistible premise that begs to be made into a movie: FBI trainees, trained in the art of profiling serial killers, go on one last “simulation” on a small island in the middle of nowhere before graduation, when they discover there is a serial killer among them and bodies start falling. Can a group of young, smart, and resourceful would-be FBI agents mutter up enough skills to stop a serial killer who schedules their deaths and takes their lives exactly at the promised second?
If the premise of “Mindhunters” sounds a bit familiar, it may be because the Sylvester Stallone serial killer movie “D-Tox” (later retitled “Eye See You”) tread some familiar grounds. In that movie, cops from around the country (along with FBI agent Stallone) are trapped by a blizzard inside a detox center in the middle of nowhere, when a serial killer begins to pick them off. With the FBI characters in “Mindhunters”, the rules of the game remains mostly the same — except these characters are supposed to be just as smart as the killer. And while the characters of “Mindhunters” do tend to use their heads more, a lot of brawn still gets thrown around — probably more than they should have been.
Val Kilmer (“The Salton Sea”) gets top billing as Harris, the trainees’ supervisor, who appears for about 10 minutes of total screentime. After Harris leaves the island (or did he?), the real main character played by Kathryn Morris (TV’s “Cold Case”) steps up to the plate. Morris’ Sarah is an obvious Fair Hair Lead — she’s pretty, blonde, and very bland. And because “Mindhunters” follows the Teen Slasher narrative very closely, anyone familiar with the genre knows that the script’s attempts to throw suspicion at Sarah, the easily traumatized heroine (aren’t they always?), are fruitless. Everyone knows the Fair Hair Lead in Teen Slasher movies has to always be around in the end to take on the killer in order to prove her mettle and showcase her hidden inner badness. It’s the Golden Rule of Teen Slasher films.
With all the FBI trainees familiar with one another when the killings start, suspicion immediately falls on outsider Gabe (LL Cool J, “SWAT”), a cop who joins Harris’ simulation at the very last minute. Of the FBI trainees, there is Christian Slater as alpha male Reston; Eion Bailey as smart aleck Bobby; Brit Will Kemp as Brit Rafe; Brit Jonny Lee Miller (“Dracula 2000″) as Texan (?) Lucas; Clifton Collins as the wheelchair-bound Vince; and supermodel Patricia Velazquez (“The Mummy”) as ex-smoker Nicole. Besides Kilmer, the other big name playing an extended cameo is Slater (“Who is Cletus Tout?”), whose Reston meets his untimely demise at the wrong end of a liquid nitrogen tank that literally tears him to shreds.
Speaking of bodies, the kills in “Mindhunters” are quite graphic. Besides Slater’s shredding, another character gets decapitated and another sucks in the wrong end of an acid-laced booby trap. “Mindhunters” was directed by Renny Harlin, who seems to have confined the ridiculously manic style he developed during “Driven” to only appropriate moments. Because the killer openly mocks the trainees by broadcasting when his/her next victim will die, time plays an important factor. Harlin’s brief flashes of clocks ticking sends all the right messages, giving the film urgency as the characters struggle to uncover the killer’s identity before he/she gets them.
“Mindhunters” is, for the most part, a nicely paced suspense thriller that hits all the right paranoia buttons. There’s rarely a dull moment in the whole movie. Besides the killings, the characters are constantly at each other’s throats, attempting to profile one another at the wrong ends of gun barrels and really nervous trigger fingers. Suspicion goes round and round, and by film’s end everyone has been given a reason to be the actual killer. With the exception of the Fair Hair Lead, of course. Her “motives” to be the killer never really sticks.
The screenplay by Kramer is mostly clever, with the killer’s identity kept secret until almost the very end. And even then the identity is revealed in one of those forced “shocking” moments where a character believes he/she has figured it all out, except the audience realize there’s still way too much running time left. It also has to be said that the script takes some liberties toward the end, especially when a character acts like he/she is the serial killer when he/she had no reasons to do so. The purpose, of course, is to save up the Big Reveal, but it all seems a tad too convenient.
“Mindhunters” doesn’t do everything well, of course, but its loud action, break-neck pace, and rampant paranoia puts it on par with the mind-twister “Identity”, which was itself overrated in this reviewer’s opinion.
Renny Harlin (director) / Wayne Kramer, Kevin Brodbin (screenplay)
CAST: Val Kilmer …. Harris
LL Cool J …. Gabe Jenkins
Christian Slater …. J.D. Reston
Eion Bailey …. Bobby Whitman
Will Kemp …. Rafe Perry
Jonny Lee Miller …. Lucas Halpern
Clifton Collins Jr. …. Vince Sherman
Kathryn Morris …. Sarah Moore