Anyone who immers­es them­selves into the world of cin­e­mat­ic schlock soon comes to real­ize how use­less the entry-lev­el crit­i­cal ques­tion of “is it good or bad?” actu­al­ly is.  If you real­ly want to have fun with the insan­i­ty that cin­e­ma has to offer, such sim­plis­tic notions must be aban­doned.  The best replace­ment for the “good/bad” ques­tion as a base­line would be “is it enter­tain­ing or not?”  because there are many films that don’t work on “legit­i­mate” crit­i­cal terms but still offer plen­ty of enter­tain­ment in their own logic/taste-defying way.

And that brings us to Mindhunters.  As many review­ers have not­ed, this ter­mi­nal­ly sil­ly slice of high-con­cept hokum is basi­cal­ly Ten Little Indians with a seri­al killer fetish.  It begins with odd­ball F.B.I. pro­fil­ing expert Jake Harris (Val Kilmer) invit­ing a batch of stu­dents, each with their own pho­bi­as or psy­cho­log­i­cal issues, to attend a pri­vate train­ing exer­cise held on a gov­ern­ment-owned island with a faux-“town square” train­ing area.  Among the stu­dents are the sar­cas­tic J.D. (Christian Slater), the frag­ile but brainy Sara (Kathryn Morris), the hot­head­ed Lucas (Jonny Lee Miller) and the bit­ter, hand­i­capped Vince (Clifton Collins).  Added into the mix at the last min­ute is Gabe (LL Cool J), a Philly-based detec­tive there to observe Jake’s eccen­tric meth­ods.

After a night’s rest and some oblig­a­tory expo­si­tion, the train­ing exer­cise begins as the stu­dents try to track down “The Puppeteer,” the faux-tar­get of the game.  Unfortunately, the Puppeteer has left behind a Rube Goldberg-esque trap that kills one of the stu­dents in a dra­mat­ic yet ludi­crous man­ner.  Thus begins a flur­ry of sus­pi­cions, plot twists and absurd­ly con­vo­lut­ed “cre­ative kill” mur­der set­pieces as the sur­vivors while they try to out­wit the unseen killer before he gets them all.

It’s point­less to mock Mindhunters because it is its own self-par­o­dy, play­ing like a Mad Magazine ver­sion of the sub–Se7en thrillers that were clog­ging the mult­plex­es dur­ing the first half of the 2000’s.  The char­ac­ters are absurd­ly uncon­vinc­ing as F.B.I. stu­dents, a flaw com­pound­ed by the way they act like dimwits at every thorny turn of the plot.  The Puppeteer is one of the goofi­est seri­al killer con­cepts ever and his obscure meth­ods of mur­der will leave most view­ers slack­jawed.  The act­ing is also most­ly ter­ri­ble: Morris floats through the film like a blank-eyed ghost, Slater’s doing his Heathers schtick for the umpteen­th time and Collins and Miller seems to be com­pet­ing for “biggest over­ac­tor” hon­ors.  Only L.L. Cool J and Val Kilmer (the one actor who seems to know how awful the film actu­al­ly is) com­ing out unscathed.

However, none of the­se prob­lems make Mindhunters unwatch­able or less than enter­tain­ing.  In fact, the film is wild­ly enter­tain­ing from start to fin­ish because you nev­er know what bit of insan­i­ty will be sprung on you next.  It’s the best kind of bad — eccen­tric — and is full of bizarro touch­es, from the ridicu­lous Rube Goldberg machi­na­tions of the first trap (it takes a few min­utes and sev­er­al stages to deliv­er its killer pay­load while every­one just stands there wait­ing for it to hap­pen) to Miller’s hilar­i­ous­ly awful “Southern” accent.

It’s also hap­pens to be very skill­ful­ly shot and styl­ized for some­thing so ridicu­lous­ly mis­guid­ed at the con­cep­tu­al lev­el.  The cred­it for this aspect of the film goes to Renny Harlin:  he may have ques­tion­able taste in mate­ri­al but he knows how to pace a film and deliv­er a pay­off.  His mus­cu­lar, aggres­sive style per­fect­ly fits the straight-faced luna­cy of the film and the fact that he doesn’t seem to be in on the joke of how sil­ly it all is just makes the pro­ceed­ings all the sweet­er.

In short, Mindhunters steam­rolls right over the “good or bad” stan­dard of crit­i­cism and deliv­ers a high-camp blast of goof­ball thriller fun.  Who cares about aes­thet­ic stan­dards when being bad is this much fun?