The Cell Tarsem Singh
Published Sep 01, 2000It is rare to see a movie this bad look so good. The Cell's visual treatment is uniformly stunning, but it seems as if the actors and the writer weren't even trying. The questionable plot has child-psychologist Catherine (Jennifer Lopez) working with new technology that allows her to enter the mind of catatonically schizophrenic patients for the purpose of guiding them back to reality. Meanwhile, a twisted serial killer (Vincent D'Onofrio), who keeps his victims in a glass cell and slowly drowns them before turning them into dolls, kidnaps one last woman before falling into a coma. In order to save the woman, FBI agent Peter Novak (Vince Vaughn) convinces Catherine to enter the killer's mind to glean information. It's sort of a literal spin on the Silence of the Lambs. The problem is that no one bothered to even try to make the plot plausible. My suspension of disbelief was stretched to the limit and then some, and I still couldn't make half the leaps that the film demanded. The technical and medical jargon employed by the characters seemed so woefully under-researched that it's possible that the actors were just making it up on the spot, and all the attempts at psychological insight into any of the characters were cliche-ridden and entirely facile.
The performances ranged from the uninspired (Lopez) to the bizarrely bad (Vaughn). The poor supporting cast, especially D'Onofrio, Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Secrets and Lies), and Gerry Becker (Happiness), had talent far exceeding the material but still couldn't manage to make the dreadful dialogue work. All that said, the film does look remarkable. It is lush and saturated with colour from start to finish, and switches effortlessly between a number of visual styles. Director Tarsem (known primarily for music videos such as R.E.M.'s Losing My Religion) intricately constructs each fantasy realm as an intense visual landscape rife with religious and spiritual imagery, making each appropriately beautiful and horrifying. The film is just oozing with artistic merit in the design and photography department, and it's inexplicable and inexcusable that none of that merit could seep into the rest of the film.