Remembering Mr. Brooks, The Bonkers Thriller Where Kevin Costner Is A Serial Killer With An Imaginary Friend

Does anyone remember "Mr. Brooks"? Released in 2007, this overstuffed curiosity received mixed reviews, earned okay box office returns, and then promptly vanished from our collective consciousness. I caught the movie when it first came to DVD, and I must confess it didn't make a huge impression on me back then. Now, though, "Mr. Brooks" is streaming on Amazon Prime Video, and I was curious enough to revisit this oddity, and I'm so glad I did. Before we go any further, let me be absolutely clear: this is not a story about how "Mr. Brooks" is some misunderstood masterpiece; an unjustly maligned work of art that we all failed. No, no. "Mr. Brooks" is wrought with issues. And yet ... there's a kitchen sink approach here that I can't help but find endearing. The most recent counterpart to this Kevin Costner movie is likely the Ben Affleck actioner "The Accountant." Not because the films tell similar stories, but rather because both "Mr. Brooks" and "The Accountant" are films overstuffed with countless subplots. There's nothing streamlined – as if every single idea that popped into the screenwriters' heads made it up on the screen. You have to respect that. I think.

The bloated nature of "Mr. Brooks" is even more eyebrow-raising when you dig into the background of the flick and learn that it was meant to be the first of a trilogy. There's enough stuff happening in "Mr. Brooks" to fill up five different movies, and yet there was still more to come. Sadly, that trilogy will never happen, leaving us with only the first film in all its bonkers glory. Co-written and directed by Bruce A. Evans, whose only other directing credit is the 1992 Christian Slater comedy "Kuffs," "Mr. Brooks" drops Kevin Costner into a rare villainous performance. Costner, with his midwestern-like charm and inherent stiffness, doesn't play bad guys that often, which might make him seem like an unlikely candidate to play a serial killer. Then again, what is it that most people say about real serial killers after they've been caught? "He seemed so normal." 

By the time "Mr. Brooks" arrived, the serial killer subgenre had been done to death, with most films of the era continually using the blueprint set forth by David Fincher's game-changing "Seven." But "Mr. Brooks" tries to do something different, making the killer the main character and dropping us into his double life. By day, Earl Brooks (Costner) is a beloved businessman, a pillar of his community, and a loving husband and father. By night, he's the infamous Thumbprint Killer – a serial murderer who stages his victims in artistic poses. That premise isn't exactly novel, or all that original. But it's what "Mr. Brooks" does with that simple setup that makes it sparkle. So come along with me, won't you, as I explore the many details and subplots that make the wonderfully silly "Mr. Brooks" something special. 

Mr. Brooks Has an Imaginary Friend Played by William Hurt

The most interesting thing about "Mr. Brooks" is Marshall, Mr. Brooks' imaginary friend, played by William Hurt, who is really just having a great time chewing the scenery. Hurt and Costner make for a unique pairing, and while Costner (mostly) plays Brooks straight, Hurt gets to have more fun as Marshall. In deleted scenes, we learn that Brooks "met" Marshall when he was a kid, and Marshall has been with him ever since. To streamline this for the theatrical cut, though, the film opens with the following text on screen: "The hunger has returned to Mr. Brooks' brain. It never really left." All movies should start with title cards like this if you ask me. 

Marshall is Brooks' Jiminy Cricket; his conscience. But while most people have a conscience that guides them to do good, Marshall feeds Brooks' homicidal urges. There's some question about just how Marshall functions – at one point, he refers to himself as being "alive." But no one else can see Marshall, which makes the character the Hobbs to Brooks' Calvin. This also results in plenty of scenes where Costner and Hurt have conversations no one else can hear. None of this is to say that Brooks is some helpless dweeb who needs Marshall to force him to kill. No, there are multiple moments here where Marshall and Mr. Brooks are on the same page, laughing it up as they hatch a twisted plan together. Best of all: "Mr. Brooks" never tries to pull a fast one on us. There's a crappier version of this movie where Marshall's true nature as an invisible, imaginary friend is kept secret before being revealed as a big twist in the third act. Here, we know from the jump that Marshall only exists in Mr. Brooks' fractured mind. 

Demi Moore Is a Millionaire Homicide Detective Going Through a Messy Divorce

While "Mr. Brooks" changes things up by making the serial killer the main character, there's still a law enforcement character on the case. That would be Detective Tracy Atwood, as played by Demi Moore. Rather than just have a generic cop character, though, "Mr. Brooks" makes the utterly strange decision to make Detective Atwood a multi-millionaire. At one point it's revealed she's worth something like $60 million dollars, which is pretty damn insane. The logic behind this approach is that the character is chasing after murderers because she enjoys it – it's not like she needs a job to pay the bills. This makes Mr. Brooks ultimately respect Detective Atwood, even though she's trying to put him in jail. And just in case the whole "millionaire cop" thing wasn't enough, "Mr. Brooks" also throws in a subplot about Atwood going through a messy divorce. Her ex-husband wants a huge chunk of change from her since she's stinking rich and all. But Atwood is "only" willing to offer a little over a million dollars in a settlement. We've all been there, right? We've all been millionaire detectives forced to pay off our exes. Anyway, Mr. Brooks decides to throw the detective a bone and bump off her crappy ex, so there's that. 

Dane Cook Is in This, and He's Actually Pretty Good

It's crazy to think about this now, but at one point, Dane Cook was huge. He was a wildly successful stand-up comedian with a ubiquitous presence, and he tried to parlay that into an acting career. That didn't go as well as his stand-up career, and eventually, the stand-up work dried up as well (especially after it started to look like Cook allegedly stole a lot of his material from Louis C.K.). While Cook's movie roles tended to be comedic, "Mr. Brooks" allowed him to embrace a dark side. And you know what? He's surprisingly good here! Cook plays Mr. Smith, a total creep who happens to witness Mr. Brooks murder a couple at the start of the film. Rather than run to the cops, Mr. Smith tracks Mr. Brooks down and agrees to not tell anyone the truth as long as Mr. Brooks takes him along on his next kill. Mr. Smith admits that he "got off" watching Mr. Brooks murder people, and he wants to learn all about becoming a serial killer now. Mr. Brooks is, understandably, wary of taking this sleazy young man under his wing, but he goes along with it, at least for a while. Cook's performance here is twitchy and unnerving, and while he does make a lot of wisecracks, he's surprisingly believable as a pervy would-be killer. Oh, also, he pees his pants at one point. Cinema!

Mr. Brooks Is Addicted to Murder

One of the more interesting ideas in "Mr. Brooks" is that the title character treats his predilection towards murder as an addiction. As he explains, he doesn't enjoy killing. He does it because he's addicted. To hammer the point home, the film even has Mr. Brooks attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to help with his problem. As neat, and different, as this concept is, "Mr. Brooks" doesn't really do much with it, probably because the film is so damn overstuffed that they just didn't have much room left. But reportedly, the "killer goes to AA" angle is what convinced William Hurt to sign onto the film, so there's that. 

Mr. Brooks Is Horny for Murder

While serial killer movies have no problem portraying the gory details of killing, they tend to shy away from the psycho-sexual nature that's so inherent in many multiple murderers. Not "Mr. Brooks"! Instead, the film leans into the sexual release Mr. Brooks experiences when he performs his ritualistic murders. This means we get scenes where Kevin Costner kills someone and then doubles over and dances around like he's having a massive orgasm. It's very awkward! The sexual elements continue after the kills – Mr. Brooks takes photos of his victims, then spends hours looking at them while completely naked. He then burns the photos to remove evidence, and even this act causes a kind of orgasmic thrill within the killer's loins. And I bet you never expected to read an article that talks about Kevin Costner's loins, but I'm here to help. 

There's More than One Serial Killer in the Movie

"Mr. Brooks" isn't content to have one serial killer, and another budding serial killer working alongside him. No, no. The movie also throws in a completely different serial killer character; one who has absolutely nothing to do with Mr. Brooks. That would be Thornton Meeks, AKA The Hangman (Matt Schulze). The Hangman is a serial killer that Detective Atwood captured years ago, but he's recently busted out of jail and is out for revenge. He also has himself an accomplice, a mostly silent female character (Traci Dinwiddie) who is perfectly okay assisting the murderer in his work. Again: none of this has anything to do with Mr. Brooks himself. 

Demi Moore Uses This Phone at One Point

This is an incredibly minor thing, but at one point, Demi Moore looks at this very dated Nokia phone, and I laughed my ass off. Look at that thing! You might recognize this as the same phone Kelly Rowland uses in the music video for the song "Dilemma." Not only is the former Destiny's Child member using said phone, but she's also somehow receiving a text message via Microsoft Excel. Sadly, Demi Moore doesn't text via Excel, but her text message does have a big old subject line and a signature like an email for some reason.

Mr. Brooks: Master of Disguise!

Mr. Brooks is so methodical in his planning that he even has himself a whole bunch of theatrical disguises. Late in the film, Brooks has to take a trip to commit an out-of-state murder, and to protect his identity, he dons several different wigs and fake beards. He even walks with a cane at one point. Absolutely none of this is convincing, but it sure is fun to watch Kevin Costner try to have a bloody marry while keeping his fake mustache dry. 

Mr. Brooks' Daughter Is a Murderer, Too

In the world of "Mr. Brooks," murder is in the genes. Near the beginning of the film, Mr. Brooks' daughter Jane (Danielle Panabaker) returns home from school. She reveals she's dropped out of college – and she's pregnant. But those aren't her biggest secrets. No, as it turns out, right before dropping out, Jane murdered someone on campus with an ax. Mr. Brooks, smart guy that he is, deduces this for himself. At one point, he considers turning his daughter in to the cops so that she won't be doomed to become a serial killer like her dad. But he eventually changes his mind and helps cover up Jane's crime. In one final twist, the film ends with Jane stabbing Mr. Brooks to death! Just kidding! That was all a dream. As it turns out, the ending where Jane stabs Mr. Brooks was the film's original conclusion. This would then set the stage for a sequel where Jane would become "Ms. Brooks." However, test audiences hated this, so everyone shrugged their shoulders and tacked on an additional moment that reveals the stabbing was all a dream. 

According to director Bruce A. Evans, the stabbing wouldn't have killed Mr. Brooks. Instead, he'd return in the sequel and have to deal with kidnappers who have abducted his family for some reason. This set-up would have Brooks forming an alliance with Detective Atwood to find his family. Marshall would be along for the ride, too. Although at one point, Brooks would "kill" Marshall – only for the imaginary friend to return again, "angrier and more perverse." Sadly, none of this came to pass, and we'll forever be left with a gaping hole where the full "Mr. Brooks" trilogy should reside. But we'll always have this first movie, with all its glorious nonsense.