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It's been perversely fun to watch the "intellectual" serial-killer movie — specifically, the subgenre where poetic evil geniuses taunt the cops with professionally art-directed crime scenes — run out of ideas and start feeding on itself. The Silence of the Lambs made these sorts of films popular. Se7en may represent the perfection of the genre. But it's all been downhill from there. We've tumbled through lame ripoffs (Copycat and Kiss the Girls) straight into the cable-movie bin (Bone Daddy) and even taken bizarre sci-fi detours (The Cell) as screenwriters struggle for new takes on what is, after all, a very narrowly defined storyline. But recently it's actually gotten pathetically funny. We've suffered through ludicrously complicated Rube Goldberg gore puzzles (Saw); serial killers hunting serial killers (Suspect Zero); and now, with Mindhunters (2005), serial-killer profilers hunting serial-killer profilers. The plot, such as it is, boils down to this: Seven FBI profiler trainees — several of them played by actors who were "hot" a few years ago (including Kathryn Morris, Jonny Lee Miller, Patricia Velasquez, and Christian Slater) — are sent to a remote island for a training simulation, hunting a fake serial killer called "The Puppeteer." Of course, the killings (which involve watches, acid, bombs, poison, spears, liquid nitrogen, dominoes, dumb luck, and not even one tiny lick of physics) end up being real. And pretty soon, all these pretty young things turn on each other. Is The Puppeteer their instructor, Harris (Val Kilmer)? Is it the "observer" who tagged along (LL Cool J)? Is it one of the interchangeably bland young stars? Mindhunters was shot with several endings and re-edited several times by director Renny Harlin as it sat on a shelf for over a year. And it shows. The plot (and several characters) make no sense, and the final underwater showdown was funnier, frankly, in Top Secret! Also, the characters have this wonderful habit of saying the obvious out loud. Some personal favorites:

  1. [After Harris brings them to the island and the only boat blows up] "Harris brought us to this island, and now we're not allowed to leave."
  2. [Looking at a dead cat with a coin stuck in its mouth] "What's this supposed to be — some kind of warning sign?"
  3. [After one or two people have died] "We know that there's a killer on the island."
  4. [Looking at a string of numbers written on a glass wall] "It's a number!"
  5. [Looking a clock that clearly says it's 6 p.m.] "It just turned six!"
  6. [After the third or fourth time someone finds a watch that predicts the exact time of the next murder] "He has an obsession with time!"
  7. And, best of all: "They don't let killers in the FBI!"

No, they don't — but they do, apparently, let monkeys with hatchets into the writing and editing rooms. Buena Vista/Dimension's DVD release of Mindhunters features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras on board include a feature-length commentary from director Renny Harlin and the behind-the-scenes featurettes "Profiling Mindhunters" (8 min.), "Stunts of Mindhunters" (4 min.), and "A Director's Walk Through Crimetown" (3 min.). Keep-case.
M.E. Russell

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