MOVIE REVIEW- Oh, brother! 'Mr. Brooks' a model serial killer

Kevin Costner has had a hard time recovering from the backlash that followed his hot period, 1987-93. A great little movie like The Upside of Anger couldn't compensate for a decade of high-profile flops (Waterworld, The Postman) and crappy romances (Message in a Bottle, Dragonfly).

If Mr. Brooks doesn't revive his career, nothing will. It's a beautifully made, twisty thriller with a script you can't outguess. Written by director Bruce A. Evans with Raynold Gideon (the two collaborated on Stand by Me and have been associated with a number of far less worthy projects since), it brings an amazing number of fresh ideas to the tired serial killer genre.

Earl Brooks (Costner) is a devoted husband (to Marg Helgenberger) and father (to Danielle Panabaker), "businessman, philanthropist... (and) Portland Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year." Gee, why wouldn't Brooks Brothers want to do the obvious promotional tie-in?

Well, Mr. Brooks is also the "Thumbprint Killer" Detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore) has been hunting for years. It's been over two years since his last murder. He's kept himself under control by going to 12-step meetings without revealing the nature of his "addiction."

But Earl has another personality, or perhaps a demon: a guy named Marshall. He's just a voice in Earl's head, but we see him as William Hurt. We see and hear their conversations, but other people who are with Earl don't know what's going on in his mind.

When Marshall finally persuades Earl to go off the wagon and kill a young couple, Mr. Brooks makes his first mistake, not noticing that their curtains are open. Sure enough, a neighbor (Dane Cook, surprisingly effective in a relatively serious role), who will be known to him as "Mr. Smith," takes pictures; but his blackmail doesn't involve money. He just wants to come along on the next murder.

There are subplots galore to take the movie in a variety of directions, without sacrificing cohesiveness. Earl's daughter drops out of college in the middle of her freshman year, and Marshall correctly guesses she's keeping some secrets. Tracy is being pursued by a killer she caught who's just escaped from prison, while she's also negotiating a divorce from her sleazy husband (Jason Lewis, who looked better on Sex and the City and Brothers and Sisters).

Don't ask if things can get any stranger, because they will; you can count on that. A couple of pieces don't quite fall into place toward the end, but they won't occur to you until you're halfway home, if then (or if you're watching at home, until... later).

Forget the threequels and go see a good movie.

Incidentally, Shreveport locations stand in for Portland. Any "port" in a storm, I guess. #