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The Cell

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Cell

Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn
Director: Tarsem Singh
Rated: R
RunTime: 110 Minutes
Release Date: August 2000
Genres: Suspense, Thriller, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

*Also starring: Vincent D'Onofrio, Jake Weber, James Gammon, Tara Subkoff, Dean Norris, Musetta Vander, Dylan Baker

Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

THE CELL is surrealistic grand opera as choreographed by the Marquis de Sade. As first-time screenwriter Mark Protosevich accurately points out in the press kit, he wanted to take the next step beyond THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Even this critic, who generally has an iron constitution after years of watching 300 films a year, was squirming in his seat on this one. Taking itself completely seriously, the movie blends science fiction technology with an old fashioned hunt for a serial killer and his dying last victim.

The result is an edge-of-the-seat thriller that should have been rated NC-17 but was given an R. Consider THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS as your personal benchmark. If it was too much for you, then you do not want to see THE CELL. Other the hand, this is one of the best movies of the summer, and you can always close your eyes if you have to.

The story opens in an imaginary landscape as psychologist Catherine Deane (Jennifer Lopez) tries to help a young boy, Edward (Colton James), break out of his coma. Through a new transcendental science, she is able to work her way into his unconscious mind. As she and the boy wear red-ribbed bodysuits, they are suspended on cables from the ceiling. Once up in this contraption, her mind goes into his. It sounds silly and looks a bit ridiculous, but the story shoots for and achieves intelligent science-fiction rather than camp.

The majority of the credit for THE CELL should go to first-time feature film director Tarsem Singh, who crafts audacious scenes of great visual power. He puts his background as a music video director to work, finding inventive and beautiful ways to stage scenes.

Paul Laufer's stunning cinematography, with its dark, oversaturated colors, calls to mind another Lopez film, Oliver Stone's U-TURN. THE CELL's striking visuals along with its fantastical costumes absolutely mesmerize the viewers.

Even though she had little luck with poor Edward, Catherine is called into service by the FBI. After a dramatic investigation, the FBI, led by FBI Agent Peter Novak (Vince Vaughn, CLAY PIGEONS) captures serial killer Carl Stargher (Vincent D'Onofrio, Abbie Hoffman in STEAL THIS MOVIE!). But there is a problem. After putting his last victim into a cube slowly filling with water, Carl fell into a coma. Carl, the doctor explains, is "not just catatonic. He has disappeared." The doctor says that Carl will never regain his consciousness. This means that, unless Catherine can enter his mind and find the location of the torture chamber, his last victim will die by nightfall.

Along her terrible journey into the creepy unknown of a schizophrenic's mind, we witness a plethora of horrible and beautiful images. Jake Thomas, as the young Carl, is sometimes Catherine's tour guide. The scene of someone's intestines being slowly ripped out is not even the worst of many nightmarish incidents that we encounter. Carl appears a malevolent king of his terrifying netherworld.

"Remember, it's not real," one of the institute's scientists (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) admonishes someone about to try the machine for the first time. Yeah, right. It looks pretty scary to the audience, so one can just imagine how frightening it would be going inside the head of a serial killer. Nevertheless, the movie makes this voyage completely engrossing, like reading a book that you can't put away until you've read every page.

Although the movie may make you embarrassed for not having more elaborate dreams, it could also have another effect. It may make you wish that the future described in the story would get here sooner. Imagine arranging for Jennifer Lopez to appear in your dreams with a disk that you could insert into your bed's electronics. Now that would be a movie tie-in worth purchasing.

THE CELL runs a blazingly fast 1:45. It is rated R for bizarre violence and sexual images, nudity and language, but it should have been rated NC-17. It would be acceptable for high school seniors and older.

Copyright 2000 Steve Rhodes

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