Tarsem Singh’s The Cell is very much like the gorgeous guy or girl in high school that tried to coast by on his/her looks later in life: very pretty, but after that wears off, you quickly realize that there’s no substance to hold your interest. Sure, you’ll keep looking, but you also kind of want to pat the film on the head and say, “Oh, how cute” in the most condescending voice you can muster. It’s not a deep thinker by any stretch of the imagination. It’s very pretty, but not very bright. Which makes watching it an almost gleeful experience. Emphasis on “almost.” Let’s do this – reasons why this film manages to break my brain.
|So pretty, yet so dumb.
#1 – The intro walk in the desert
Really, you rode a horse all the way out to go on foot in the most sci-fi dress possible? AND it manages to stay clean? You couldn’t have found a more direct way to get to Edward, who looks like Bastian from The Neverending Story? Were there no Luck Dragons around for quick transport? This is a state of mind – it does not know time, but is hefty on imagination. I’m not quite sure why this was drawn out. Aside from, you know, the need to get through all the credits.
#2 – The mind immersion suits
No complaints that it was perfectly sculpted to Jennifer Lopez’s body. None whatsoever. What gets me is that the body suit that Vince Vaughn slips into later on fits him like a glove too. It’s so nice to know that the other therapist was an exact replica of a dude that stands 6’5″. Let’s not forget that Vincent D’Onofrio got one too, and he’s 6’3″. That’s a pretty standard height for the manufacturer of these things, I guess. There also seems to be a strange muscle shape to it, which makes the whole thing come off as a bad Slim Goodbody impression.
|Come to think of it, did they really need to float? I kind of wanted someone to fall.
#3 – The changing hairstyles
Do you realize how long it can take to style your hair in perfect curls? Especially when you’re going from a pin-straight bun to a curly half-ponytail. If we’re racing against time, why change your hair in elaborate fashion? It almost felt like the changing outfit colors of poorly dubbed Hong Kong action flicks. One minute, Lopez’s hair is straight; the next, it’s curly. That shit takes time. Then there’s the matter of the color: at some points, it’s much lighter. I’m not talking about the mental world hair – I’m talking about her regular style out in the real world. That’s either some amazing sunlight, or a major continuity flaw.
#4 – Makeup as far as the eye can see
I’m interested to know just how much of the budget went to Lopez’s makeup. Seriously, this woman wears more lip gloss in this film than I have in my entire life. I’m amazed her lips didn’t collapse under the weight of it all. Really, you can’t help but stare at it. I worried that if I looked too long, it would burn a hole into my retinas. The one-two punch of lip gloss and duck lips? I can’t. The crowning moment was the saint costume accompanied by the three pounds of eyeshadow, blush and lipstick. Didn’t think saints were portrayed with that much makeup in their minimalist lives. I’m a total beauty junkie, so when I say that something’s too much, you’ve really got to be pushing the envelope. She was about a layer short of full-on Frank N. Furter shellack.
|At least he was wearing a lot of it post-kiss. Yay realism.
#5 – Costume changes galore
Again, if this is a race against time, why on earth are we changing costumes? Can’t you give a debriefing in an exam room? Do you really need to get dressed, change your hair style (see above), slap on some more lip gloss (also see above), go give a status update, change back into the Slim Goodbody costume and then continue on your merry adventure through mental landscapes? The time concept reminded me of Mr. Rooney running down the hallway in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – run, walk, run, walk, RUN, walk.
#6 – Barely-smoked cigarettes
There are a few scenes where Vince Vaughn takes all of two drags on a cigarette, then ditches it. At one point, there’s an ashtray full of barely-smoked cigarettes. Even D’Onofrio’s Carl throws cigarettes away that are barely a quarter down. While I don’t smoke, I’ve lived with smokers, and I can assure you that they will take every last drag. That crap’s far too expensive to just throw it away, let alone for the nicotine fix. Everyone knows that two puffs and a toss is a complete waste.
# 7 – The “No shit, Sherlock” moments
A real conversation in this film:
“What’s that?” *points to a metal collar*
Really? You wasted dialogue on this? I thought these were supposed to be believable investigators. Sadly, this isn’t the only instance. Lopez mumbling “his victims” when she first sees the doll-women in Carl’s mind felt so forced and obvious that, again, I had to repeat, “Really?” It’s like The Cell for stupid people: “HERE. Let me connect the dots for you. THIS IS WHAT’S GOING ON!” Thanks a lot there, Captain Obvious.
#8 – Whalen’s Infraction and Schizophrenia
An infraction is an incomplete broken bone. An infarction references lack of blood flow that causes tissue death. Dr. Reid, you should at least know the difference, even if you’re a pretend doctor. If you’re going to make shit up, make sure that you at least go to fucking Wikipedia (okay, since this came out in 2000, I suppose that I could cut a little slack and direct the writers to the goddamned dictionary) to get a few definitions straight. While we’re at it, filmmakers need to stop blaming everything on schizophrenia. It’s a poorly understood mental disorder that has gotten a reputation for all suffers to be violent. In discussing abnormal psychology with a professor once, she referred to schizophrenia as the dumpster of mental disorders – because it’s so broad, a lot gets lumped in there, and then the misconceptions start. That’s not fair to anyone suffering from a mental illness. It’s a disease, not a convenient explanation that can be manipulated to serve your half-baked plot.
# 9 – The baby hooker voice
As the film progresses, Lopez changes the tone and volume of her voice. The effect is that she sounds like she’s doing her best baby hooker impersonation: sweet, tiny tones that feign cuteness. This annoys the living shit out of me. You’re a goddamned adult, Jennifer. Use your big girl voice.
# 10 – I need a volunteer…
I love the conclusion that gets jumped to when Lopez’s Catherine gets lost in the mind of D’Onofrio’s Carl. Because trained professionals ALWAYS let some random person (Readers: “Ahem, F.B.I agent, Erin.” Me: “In what world is someone that dumb an F.B.I… wait a sec…”) with no training in psychology and/or this brand of technology just jump right in to help. This is the most Mickey Mouse operation ever green lit. The team is then surprised when things go to hell. I think I hurt myself when I smacked my forehead.
# 11 – SYMBOLISM
There are some directors that are very good with subtlety. This film? Not so much. I wasn’t just shown obvious symbolism. Singh presented a book on symbolism, then proceeded to beat me over the head with it. Colors, birds, dolls, water, lighting, crucifixion – I think I picked up some bruises from this beating. I don’t like this approach. It’s akin to someone else chewing your food for you, then handing it to you in a wadded up napkin for consumption. Insulting and gross.
|My head hurts from that beating.
Again, while this one’s a beauty queen, it really doesn’t have much going on between the ears. Singh and director of photography Paul Laufer presented a visually stunning film, but beyond that, it was ridiculous. I didn’t like that, at the end of the day, it coasted along on its looks and hoped to Christ that you didn’t figure out that it was dumber than a box of hair.