Serial killers are a dime a dozen in this often beguiling but essentially ludicrous movie that flirts with the idea that the urge to kill is just another one of the pesky addiction problems that plagues modern society.

In fact, the film even shows our buttoned-down serial killer, Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner), aka Portland, Ore.’s Man of the Year, attending AA meetings and reciting the Serenity Prayer in his attempt to stave off his addictive impulses.

Costner is great here as the two-sided monster: one, a successful, bow-tie-wearing box manufacturer and devoted family man who has a picture-book life; the other, a psychotic yet methodical murderer of selected strangers, who is known to the cops as the Thumbprint Killer. Fair enough. But then director and co-writer Evans starts piling on the subplots and general nastiness to a point that surpasses all credibility and, sometimes, even coherence.

The most glaring narrative conceit gives full life to Earl’s id in the form of William Hurt, whom Earl calls Marshall. Earl and Marshall have full conversations in which Marshall goads Earl into giving in to his desires, yet no one but Earl sees the 200-pound Marshall in the room or hears him speaking out loud to his life-sized id. Add in a neighbor (Dane Cook), who happens upon one of the murders, but instead of going to the cops, all he wants is to come along and learn the killing trade from such a pro. Then there’s the detective (Demi Moore), an heiress who works as a cop and has tracked the Thumbprint Killer over the years. Somehow, two complications from her current life become convenient fodder for Earl’s murderous escapades: her messy divorce hearings and the sudden escape from prison of yet another killer she previously put behind bars.

As the killers and would-be killers on the loose mount, Mr. Brooks explodes from its mild-mannered start into full Guignol mode and it would take a defter filmmaker than Evans to steer the tonal shift. Still, it’s a real trip to hear the acting pros, Costner and Hurt, cackling in unison as Mr. Brooks chalks up another one for his id.


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