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"The Cell"

Directed by Tarsem.
Written by Mark Protosevich.
Starring Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn and Vincent D'Onofrio.
Release Year:  2000 
Review Date:  8/22/00 


I am not sure what exactly did it, but "The Silent Dump" essay got more responses, advice, criticism and praise than any other Bellview this year.  So, thanks...I thought it was pretty funny stuff, so I am glad that you did too.

One other note:  I finally found an apartment.  But, naturally, Chuck and I can't move in until the 20th of, I will be homeless starting this Saturday for the following 25 days.  What does this mean for you?  When you get a call from me sometime in the next four weeks, know that I am probably calling you not because I like you, but because in fact I need to sleep on your couch!!

As many of you know, I am a huge Jennifer Lopez fan (at least, of her movies; don't get me started on her music) and I was excited to see her as the star of the new movie "The Cell."  The preview for this thing had me hyped because it had the look of some sci-fi type stuff with a little mix of "Jacob's Ladder" thrown into the pot for good measure.  A sprinkle of former bad ass Vince Vaughn ("Swingers", "The Lost World") couldn't hurt, so this afternoon after work I hopped over to the multiplex for the flick.

Now, I am a big believer of vibe.  The vibe, for me, all starts with the previews.  Generally speaking, if the previews are really good, then the movie could go either way.  But, I have NEVER seen a good movie that follows bad previews.  So, when I saw the preview for the upcoming Christopher Lambert thriller "Highlander: Endgame," I was sweating bullets.  Then, it got worse:  the Winona Ryder horror-scorer "Lost Souls"...and, then, the upcoming Keanu Reeves thriller "The Watcher"!  I was shaking my head, hoping that it wasn't true:  "The Cell" was going to suck!  No, no, NO!!!

Luckily, I was only half right.  "The Cell" ain't bad, and its twisted visions of what it would be like to be able to visit a person's mind to see how they think are actually kind of cool.  But, it has some of the worst character development of any film this summer, and I thought that Ms. Lopez was wasted in her role as the lead psychologist for a California technology firm that has come up with a way to enter the mind of a child that has been in an eight-year coma.  Not because she never got naked, mind you--I think Lopez, like Julia Roberts and Michelle Pfeiffer and Sandra Bullock and most other big-time actresses, has a no-nudity clause in all of her movie contracts--but because she spends most her time chewing on the scenery, a waste for someone that is trying to become a better actress, not a better-looking statue.

The movie follows Lopez and her psychologist's day job until a psychopath (Vincent D'Onofrio, "Men in Black") is caught by the FBI following a chain of murders he committed by kidnapping, raping and killing innocent women.  His big trick:  storing them in a homemade cell that is designed to torture the women by making them believe they are being held prisoner...when, in fact, after 40 hours in the cell, it fills with water and drowns the victim inside automatically, through a serious of reasonably high-tech devices that allow the killer to go hunt down other women in the meantime.  I must admit, some seriously sick bastard came up with the idea for the cell itself, and this is much more disturbing than some of the messed-up images that the movie presents us with while in the killer's mind later.

Anyway, the FBI's lead agent (Vaughn) finds out upon the capture that the killer has fallen into some kind of lifelong coma, and the only way to find out where his latest kidnapping victim--and the cell itself--are located is to somehow get into the killer's head and dig up clues as to where his hideout might be.  So, Lopez shows up again and goes into the killer's head to get the answers.

While not a horror movie technically, this movie has a lot of pretty sick stuff in it, especially in the early going as the movie follows D'Onofrio's habits of keeping women in the cell long after they have drowned or in unpasteurized milk to keep the flesh intact.  And, the scene where he is hanging from those seal hooks he has embedded in his flesh...ugh!  People in my audience were just in shock that someone would throw a scene in their movie where a human being is just shown hanging from essentially his own flesh...and liking it!  Disturbing...or, some of the corpse scenes late in the movie, and even its ending--you would think there would be another way to tell me that a man is vulnerable than by just pulling his nipples out, but NOOOOO...I get to see that, too!  I am shivering right now as I write this!

But, it is the character development, for me, that didn't work.  Vince Vaughn's character is never really given a chance to show the audience why he acts the way that he does, and Lopez--while clearly possessing a soft spot for young children--didn't really feel like a person, just the device that Tarsem, the director (I love single-named geniuses!), used to show off his very-pretty visual effects.  Admittedly, Lopez looks good in some of those ridiculous costumes, but I wish she had some kind of personality, like she did in "Out of Sight", her best film so far.

And, a movie that is this tense throughout needs to have some laughs.  Unfortunately, it has zero!  So, the sheer lack of comic relief makes this one tough on that date that hates thrillers or scary movies.  Expect a lot of the "honey, could you let go of my shoulder now?"-type of behavior.

A so-so experience, which once again is all visual effects and no real story.  When are they gonna get it right?

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09