Film Reviews

THE CELL

By • Aug 18th, 2000 •

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Imagine SILENCE OF THE LAMBS starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. Hannibal Lechter played by Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs. Replacing Clarice’s boring, middle-class functional FBI suits are clothes by Donatella Versace. The story is great, the direction is superb but you keep wondering what the film would have been like if Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins were cast instead.

We’ve already seen casting gone amuck this month – Wynona Ryder lovesick over a 48 year-old self-centered bastard played by Richard Gere in the artfully directed, atmospheric AUTUMN IN NEW YORK.

As with AUTUMN’s director Joan Chen, THE CELL’s Tarsem (Singh) will not be scorched at all by any critical backlash his first feature film will garner. THE CELL is a visual playhouse with a strong director’s point of view. Its biggest problem is the miscasting of Jennifer Lopez (as psychologist Catherine Deane) and Vincent D’Onofrio (as misunderstood serial killer Carl Stargher). Tarsem’s evocative personal style (ably assisted by production designer Tom Foden [with inspiration from the Brothers Quay], director of photography Paul Laufer, special effects supervisor Clay Pinney, visual effects supervisor Kevin Tod Haug and S&M inspired costumes by Japanese artist Eiko Ishioka) is clearly evident. This is his first feature film and he has a very promising career ahead. But he needs a tough, brutal thriller.

Costumes play a big part in THE CELL. Lopez is a child psychologist who, with the aid of advanced brain technology, goes inside coma patients’ unconscious minds. When Stargher falls into a coma-like state while his latest victim is hidden somewhere, Catherine agrees to enter Stargher’s mind and find the seventh girl he has kidnapped. Stargher has a very vivid and kinky unconscious – inside his mind Lopez finds herself draped in outrageous costumes. But Lopez has the face and attitude of a Puerto Rican Bronx girl stuck in uncomfortable dress-up. Her face isn’t regal enough for her farflung white feather gown and Pharaonic ensembles. (I think Lopez might have been chewing gum in one nightmare/fantasy scene). Nor is her voice isn’t strong enough to capture the determinism and scope of her steely-driven character. One has got to be a hero with nerve (and hopefully the voice of an adventurer) to enter into the mind of a serial killer who plays with human intestines.

I like religious-themed serial killer movies (doesn’t Christianity take enough hits already for the Crusades and the Inquisition?) but why is Lopez finally presented as a convent-clad Madonna? Didn’t any of her people suggest this costume would invoke laughter instead of shock?

Vincent D’Onofrio keeps making movies. The definitive D’Onofrio performance was in FULL METAL JACKET but, for me, D’Onofrio’s cinematic triumph was his crazed alien-possessed mechanic in MEN IN BLACK. He can’t give Stargher the sensitivity the screenplay asks for. But how does one do that anyhow? All serial killers have lousy childhoods. They all started out as cute babies. God forgives. We’re here to punish with life-in-prison.

This is also Mark Protosevich’s screen writing debut. By his bio in the press notes, we’ll be seeing a lot more of his work. His specialty appears to be sci-fi horror thrillers. I would say he’s got a lot of research left to do.

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