Costner hones his killer instinct as 'Mr. Brooks.'

Can you imagine the 'Bull Durham' star as a serial killer?

Can you imagine Kevin Costner as a serial killer? That's the premise of "Mr. Brooks," and it's not as far-fetched as you might at first imagine.

Costner became a star in films such as "Bull Durham" and "Field of Dreams," where his laconic romanticism invited comparisons to Gary Cooper. But he also had a tension – a temper – in those films that made such a comparison dubious.

In truth, Costner is often at his best when a bit of darkness encroaches on the glamour-boy glow. This is why, unlike so many others, I didn't chortle when I first heard about this new film. Playing against type isn't exactly unheard of in Hollywood. It's often how one wins Oscars.

It would be nice to report that Costner's bid paid off but "Mr. Brooks," aside from the low-key menace he exudes, isn't much.

Earl Brooks is a wealthy businessman who seems to have it all – a gorgeous wife (Marg Helgenberger), doting college-age daughter (Danielle Panabaker), and public acclaim. (When the film begins, he is being honored as Portland's "Man of the Year.")

But, unknown to everyone, he is also the infamous Thumbprint Killer, and even though he hasn't killed in two years, the old bloodlust has recently kicked in again. He can't help himself. He even goes to AA meetings because he only feels normal in a roomful of addicts.

From a dramatic standpoint, the only interest is the casting of William Hurt as Marshall, Brooks's alter ego. Marshall is Earl's depraved id brought to life; they appear in many scenes together, although the imaginary Marshall is visible only to Earl. This Jekyll-Hyde stunt is hokey but also surprisingly effective, perhaps because Costner's tamped-down creepiness matches up well with Hurt's flagrant nuttiness.

One dramatic ploy that doesn't work is the casting of Demi Moore as Tracy Edward, a homicide detective intent on capturing the Thumbprint Killer. Moore gave a rare good performance as the washed up diva in "Bobby," but her stridency here is grating. In the battle between Tracy and Earl, I was rooting for Earl. I don't think this is what the filmmakers intended.

Grade: C+

Rated R for strong violence, some graphic sexual content, nudity, and language.

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