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MINDHUNTERS

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: LL Cool J, Johnny Lee Miller, Kathryn Morris, Patricia Valesquez, Clifton Collins Jr., Eion Bailey, Will Kemp, Val Kilmer, Christian Slater
Director: Renny Harlin
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Dimension
Features: See Review
Length: 106 Minutes
Release Date: September 20, 2005

“Three watches.”

“What time are they set for?”

“THEY’RE SET FOR NOW.”

Film ***1/2

When a movie manages to take a familiar movie formula and still manages to deliver the goods and then some, you can’t help but acknowledge it as something of an accomplishment. We’ve seen many horror and suspense movies that apply the Ten Little Indians plot scenario, where a group of characters in a confined setting are being knocked off by a vicious killer one by one. The all around best example is Identity, and Mindhunters can certainly be hailed as the second best example which, again, is a good accomplishment.

The movie also marks a high point for director Renny Harlin, who has always known how to craft thrilling and exhilarating popcorn entertainments. Having spent the last decade making mostly action-oriented flicks, Harlin has managed to make his most perfect piece of popcorn cinema yet in the form of a stylish suspense thriller. The end result had me ranking this alongside the director’s ultimate best such as Cliffhanger and Deep Blue Sea.

Like most of Harlin’s movies, Mindhunters is best enjoyed if you suspend all logic and just go along with the ride. The title refers to a group of elite FBI profilers that are trained to hunt down serial killers using nothing but the mind. They are undergoing an extensive training program under the watchful eye of Harris (Val Kilmer). The team of aspiring profilers, led by J.D. Reston (Christian Slater), includes agents Sara Moore (Kathryn Morris), Lucas Harper (Johnny Lee Miller), Nicole Willis (Patricia Velasquez), Vince Sherman (Clifton Collins, Jr.), Bobby Whitman (Eion Bailey) and Rafe Perry (Will Kemp).

The team of young agents is about to embark of the most challenging part of the training op, which will take place on a remote island. The facility contains a mock-up of a town known as “Crimetown U.S.A.” Harris has informed the team that a killer, named The Puppeteer is terrorizing the town, making this the most intense test of their profiling abilities.

In addition, there’s an added agent to the bunch in the form of Gabe Jensen (LL Cool J). Though he’s from another FBI unit, Gabe is quick to demonstrate that his profiling skills are no different than that of theirs. The team of profilers then set to begin their elaborate simulation in an area where every setting seems to have a bizarre trap set, but only in training exercise-terms.

Then everything takes a nasty turn when one of the agents is gruesomely wiped out in front of the other agents, after unknowingly setting off a lengthy booby trap. The remaining agents soon realize that this is WAY more than a simulation. Additional traps are found throughout the island, and it becomes clear that a very real killer is waiting in the midst until the last agent is dead.

With no way off the island and tensions rising, the profilers soon take notice of an ugly possibility; one of them may be the killer. At first, they suspect Gabe since he’s an outsider, but when he later saves a fellow agent from near death, he very much clears his name. From this point on, the true identity of the killer is as clear as mud.

In movies like this, the viewer seems obligated to become detective and spot the possible killer before he or she is revealed. Let me state right up front that in this movie, it will do you no good in doing so. By the end of the movie, I found myself fooled no less than three times before the killer’s true identity is revealed, at which point I was quite stunned. Harlin and the screenwriters have done a most masterful job of jerking the audience one way and then another in this regard.

Mindhunters also carries elements of trademark Renny Harlin that you certainly wouldn’t have gotten from another director. Midway in the movie, LL Cool J finds himself climbing on pipes in a hallway to avoid electrocution from below. And the movie concludes with a gun duel under water, which is as ballsy an action scene as only Harlin could pull off.

And fans of slasher movies are bound to get a kick out of the gruesome delights that Harlin has indulged in. The deaths are both tremendously gruesome and worthy of jump scares. Remember the surprise Samuel L. Jackson got in Deep Blue Sea? That’s the kind of scare quality we’re talking here, and two actors who I’ll leave nameless should get tremendous props for allowing themselves to get taken out in such disgusting ways.

Bottom line, Mindhunters is pure cinematic tension, and the type of go-for-broke popcorn entertainment that Renny Harlin has always been known for. The great ensemble, along with the creepy atmosphere and Harlin’s signature touch make this a must for those seeking hardcore edge-of-your-seat thrills.

Video ****

Dimension’s anamorphic handling of the quite atmospheric thriller is of outstanding form. 90 percent of the movie takes place in dark and confined settings, and the image quality manages to remain detailed and flawless throughout. It may just be the best presentation to date for accomplishing so much with so many darkly lit sequences. Picture detail is tremendously superb, and colors also blend amazingly in the mix.

Audio ****

By now, about every Renny Harlin movie on DVD has provided one explosive piece of audio after another, so it goes without saying that the 5.1 mix on this disc is nothing short of phenomenal. From the opening scene, the superb sound element (key in any movie like this) never lets up. And when the action starts on the island setting, the quality only gets better and more dynamic. All channels come to life in a number of sequences, including a key scene involving a voice coming from speakers. One pure reference quality disc!

Features ***

A good enough level of extras on this release, including an always intriguing commentary from Renny Harlin, two featurettes; “Profiling Mindhunters” and “A Director’s Walk Through Crimetown”, and a Stunt Sequence Breakdown.

Summary:

Mindhunters is a prime example of how a thrilling popcorn thriller should be. Renny Harlin, once again, demonstrates his knack for crafting pulse-pounding thrills and chills with this gruesomely fun spin on the average whodunit.

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