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The Cell

Starring Jennifer Lopez, Vincent D'Onofrio, Vince Vaughn
Screenplay by Mark Protosevich and Steve Ross
Directed by Tarsem

IN SHORT: Disembowelment: The music video.[Rated R for bizarre violence and sexual images, nudity and language. ]

You may have seen it in the trailer or the teevee advertising, flowing capes and costumes peeling in a visual feast of eye candy promoting The Cell. You may have gone "ooo, pretty" which we admit was our first reaction as the voiceover announcer promises to take you "inside the mind of a killer". We'll FedEx a couple of gold stars to the marketing folk at New Line because it's a brilliant and brilliantly intriguing pitch. One that, I would guess, is pretty close to true. One of screenwriter Mark Protosevich's "primary areas of interest," say the press notes, is (the world of) the serial killer. Combine that with a fascination for old horror films and nightmares and you get this thing, in which a plot gimmick allows a literal special effects trip "inside" the mind of a perverted, twisted, sick, demented killer.

You will see a lot of legitimate raves for The Cell, all based on everything we were taught in film school, with ravings about the visuals (of which it is fully deserving) and phrases like "pushing the envelope." Our feeling is that what you see on the screen should never get in the way of telling the story. We have sat through hundreds of films far, far worse than The Cell and never walked out of any of 'em wishing we had never walked in in the first place.

Then again, we've never developed any stomach for scenes of piercing suspension -- there is no comma missing in that two word phrase, just in case you feel the need to correct the grammar -- and disembowelment. All of which contribute to the characterization of, and to your understanding of the mind of serial killer Carl Stargher (Vincent D'Onofrio), whose preferred method of slaughter is to lock sweet young things in an eight foot square plastic cube and walk away while a timer system triggers shower heads in the ceiling to fill the cube. That, in itself is sick enough, but fine for horrorflicks. What comes next, which involves that "piercing suspension" phrase and a solitary sexual act, goes flat out beyond anything I could have conceived as perverted in what passes for the liberal thing I consider my mind to be.

The killer, though, is tracked far too easily by FBI agent Peter Novak (Vince Vaughn). Novak's problem is that, once he finds Stargher, he discovers that the perv suffers from something called Whalen's Infraction, a "viral schizophrenia contracted in utero" which, essentially, means that when the Feds get their hands on the guy, he's in a coma. His latest victim, Julia Hickson (Tara Subkoff), is still missing and the clock is ticking.

Enter neurological researcher Catherine Deane (Jennifer Lopez) who has been experimenting with a brain-mapping therapy that, combined with liberal doses of psychotropic drugs, allows her to enter the minds of her kidlet schizophrenic subjects and engage in symbolic one to one therapy. That means lots of pretty pictures, the realm of music vid director Tarsem, who lets loose with stunning graphic after stunning visual, which includes a dream sequence in which one principal gets disemboweled by a hand crank.

Remember what I said earlier about visuals not getting in the way of the story? I saw The Cell a week before writing this review -- I needed to flush most of the unpleasantness out of my skull -- and the thing that stands out is that hand crank. I can type all the words of praise the film makers would love to see about a story that has psychological depth, which it does; that the acting performances are vivid and believable, which they are; that the visuals ... sorry, done that, and I would just be filling the page.

On the other hand, our west coast correspondent Paul Fischer, whom I watched the movie with, calls The Cell "one of the most visually exciting and intoxicating movies of the year". His take comes in a StarTalk with Jennifer Lopez. A French reviewer, sitting behind us, walked out raving that this movie "really makes you think!"

Even in horror/thrillers, this is nothing I want to think about.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Cell, he would have paid...


'cuz we're not going to recommend it to anyone but the film student minded among you. Don't bother to email me to explain why I'm wrong. We understood the story. We got the point of the visuals. We wish we had brought a vomit bag.

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.