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The Cell
2000 - R - 107 Mins.
Director: Tarsem Singh
Producer: Eric McLoed, Eric McLeod, Julio Caro
Written By: Mark Protosevich
Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn, Vincent D'Onofrio, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Dylan Baker
Review by: David Trier
   
I doubt the screenplay for this film was very thick. Not a whole lot actually happens in this story, so I'm guessing the producers just had a blind trust of this newcomer (music-video) director, Tarsem Singh, assuming he'd fill in the gaps of narrative with entertaining, stylized visuals. Some producers have all the luck. What this surprisingly appealing genre film lacks in deep thought, it more than makes up for with expert cinematography and special effects.

When a billionaire's son slips into a schizophrenic coma, funding is provided for a radical form of psychotherapy that utilizes virtual reality and psychotropic drugs to allow a therapist "into" the mind of the patient. Although Catherine Deane (Jennifer Lopez) is not the most experienced psychotherapist, she is considered the most intuitive by her scientist colleagues (Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Dylan Baker). When complete mental disaster/serial killer, Carl Stargher (Vincent D'Onofrio) slips into a coma, FBI agent, Peter Novak (Vince Vaughn) must use the science (and the scientist) to enter his brain and find out where he's hiding his latest victim. The victim, meanwhile, is trapped in an automated jail "cell" somewhere that's quickly filling with water. Inside Stargher's brain, his evil demon emperor self traps her, along with his innocent child self. Novak must then go in to save her and luckily happens to find a clue to where the victim is, just in time. Deane stays inside so she can save Stargher's abused psyche by destroying him. The film ends with a stupid little forced suggestion of romance between Lopez and Vaughn.

Okay, bad news first. The science of the film comes up with a lot of excuses for its existence, but ultimately can't deny that it's a completely juvenile concept of psychology and neuroscience. The idea that our minds can be literalized into a dark world where our egos sit on a throne and punish our child selves leaves out centuries of science that show that our skulls house an organ called the brain. The idea that any amount of money would be able to provide this technology and that it would be funded by one guy and run by less than a handful is also a little silly. There is never any acceptable explanation of why Stargher goes through such effort to kill people other than that he was severely abused as a child and has a special kind of schizophrenia. In fact, the whole character of the serial killer is never fully fleshed out, and we're left wanting to hear him say more, be more than just scary. There are moments when Lopez and Vaughn try to discuss the nature of crime as it relates to mental illness, but the dialogue isn't really strong enough to handle such a subject and no new ground is covered. Now for the good stuff. Although some of the scenes are too trippy for too long, there is never a moment when you think the camera caught something cool by accident. Paul Laufer's cinematography is consistently specific in its intentions, and the shots are edited superbly. Perhaps the most impressive part of the film is the special makeup effects and costumes. From the previews, I was expecting the film to be made up completely of CGI tricks, and it has its fair share, but the real star of the show is the attention to detail Heather Plott and James Ryder give to the characters' deformed faces. In total, the cinematography, the effects, the editing all work as a team to never let your eyes leave the screen.

Jennifer Lopez is very appealing, but not all emotionally connected. It requires a little suspension of disbelief to accept her as a psychotherapist, but she isn't bad and there are moments of touching sincerity. Vince Vaughn does a surprisingly good job, considering how he butchered Anthony Perkins' Norman Bates a few years ago. Here, he has a better sense of less being more, although sometimes he lacks the emotional strength for the more dramatic scenes. I think he did the best he could with a part that wasn't really right for him. The character was once a prosecutor for the district attorney long enough to realize he didn't like it and then go through FBI training and spend years hunting down serial killers. It calls for someone older and more seasoned. Vincent D'Onofrio always gives a good performance, and here is no exception, but the writing doesn't give him enough to do. The supporting cast, notably Mariannne Jean-Baptiste, Dylan Baker, and Jake Weber, all give strong performances.

The Cell is Silence of the Lambs with more stylized imagery but without the dialogue, mixed with Altered States, The Lawnmower Man, and Dreamscape… sprinkle Hellraiser to taste and cook on high
 
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

 
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