The Cell

Not so long ago, calling a movie visually stunning© actually meant something. Today, though, even films shot on video can look quite good, and computer imaging enables a Mac to do what it would’ve taken a crew of fifty to do ten years ago. When applied to science-fiction or fantasy films, the “visually stunning©” accolade is even less impressive. Such films are supposed to pack a visual punch; saying they’re great because they look cool is like saying a glass is great because it holds water. Many of us, though, would rather see a story that holds water, even if it has meat-and-potatoes visuals.

Which brings us to The Cell, a visually stunning© dud that holds no water whatsoever. Ironic, since the titular object is a huge glass container in which women are trapped until water fills the space and drowns them. This is part of an elaborately vicious fetish of serial killer Carl Stargher (Vincent D’Onofrio), who kidnaps women, stashes them in the aforementioned cell until they drown, then soaks them in a tub of bleach to give them a baby-doll look, then hovers over their corpses by hooks in the flesh of his back, then dumps the bodies for the cops to find.

Who does that? Why all this Dr. Evil stuff? Why doesn’t he just shoot women in the head and bury them somewhere, like a normal serial killer? And what does Carl do for a living that enables him to afford this amazing deathtrap? What is he, Batman?

Carl has another woman somewhere, awaiting death by drowning, but just as the FBI are closing in on him, Carl suffers some sort of massive brain fart and goes into a coma. Problem: He’s the only one who knows where the endangered woman is. So the FBI sit down and, I imagine, have the following conversation:

FBI Agent #1: Okay, we gotta find out where he hid this woman before she drowns. Should we put extra manpower on this? Put out an APB? Ask questions? Use our deductive skills? Work overtime until we turn up a lead?

FBI Agent #2: Nah, let’s get Jennifer Lopez to wander around in his head.

And so it is done. Lopez, playing an experimental psychologist who pokes around inside the psyches of the comatose, is recruited to delve into Carl’s inner sanctum for clues. There she finds Carl as an innocent boy — see, the movie is saying, killers aren’t born, they’re made — and also Carl as some kind of demented Lizard King of slaughter. Apparently Carl’s inner life is influenced by Kabuki theater and the music videos of Tarsem Singh (REM’s “Losing My Religion”), who has directed The Cell like a man screaming in your face every 20 seconds, “Look what a visual genius I am!” Lopez wades through many nonsensical, pompous, gradually annoying dream-logic scenes that are, of course, visually stunning©.

Vince Vaughn also turns up, sleepwalking through his performance as an FBI agent who accompanies Lopez into Carl’s mind and comes out with a clue he hadn’t spotted in the real world (take the guy’s badge away and make him clean toilets at Quantico, say I). If not for that one clue, the dream sequences would be utterly pointless. Actually, they do have one point: to show us a whole lot more blood and women in bondage than the movie could’ve shown if it had stuck to reality.

Not that it sticks to reality even when it’s in reality. The Cell is yet another pretentious sci-fi freak-out show, following Dark City and The Matrix, two other visually stunning© scriptless wonders. While Vaughn tracks down the increasingly desperate woman (FBI choppers and cars speeding across the frame, just like in The Silence of the Lambs and Seven), Lopez is still in Carl’s head, and I kept thinking, Why is she still there? Her work is done; can’t she just go home to her cat and get stoned watching Fantastic Planet some more? But no, Lopez stays in Carl’s head to redeem him, I guess, and put him at peace. Meanwhile, no matter how nicely Lopez is treating Carl’s inner child, his victims remain just as horribly dead. But, hey, at least his violent misogyny is visually stunning©. That makes it okay. Right?

Explore posts in the same categories: horror, one of the year's worst, science fiction

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