As the title psychopath of Mr. Brooks, Kevin Costner plays an executive good citizen the kind of fellow who wins Man of the Year awards who is also a brilliant serial killer, and the actor, looking sleek in dark hair, with that politician's wary fish-lipped smile, slips into this image-shifting role as if it were a crisply tailored suit. Mr. Brooks' homicidal desires may be invisible to the world, but they're right in front of us. The killer inside his id, his Mr. Hyde is played by William Hurt, who keeps popping up in Brooks' office or the back of his car, cackling with delight to goad him into another murder. It's a fascinating strategy: Hurt acts out the killer's sick inner child so that Costner doesn't have to.
Mr. Brooks begins promisingly, but it grows steadily more preposterous as it goes along, becoming the first feel-good serial-killer movie. Dane Cook, still trapped in his innocuous comedy rhythms, turns up as a disturbed young man who has photographed (through a convenient open window shade) Brooks' latest handgun execution. He tries to blackmail the killer into taking him on his next ''outing,'' but their relationship converts the movie, in essence, into a far-fetched buddy film. Things just get worse from there. Did Brooks need to have a collegiate daughter who's a chip off the old psycho? And the Costner/Hurt duality should get thornier; instead, the film's notion of complication is to have these two collapse into a teary hug. Costner's bold career move turns out to be a thriller in which even the dark side cares. C