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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Cell

Visual imagination of the highest order

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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August 1, 2000 -- Once in a while a movie comes along that is so visually stunning it tends to carry you away with it, even if the story and the acting don't measure up to those amazing pictures. "The Cell" is just such a movie.

"The Cell" is a science fiction movie about a device which allows people to get inside the minds of other people. The story is a little bit similar to that of "Brainstorm," a 1983 film which also had great special effects (designed for wide screens and 70 millimeter projectors). The idea, if you are an art director and special effects director is to let your imaginations run wild in visualizing this merging of minds.

In terms of visual imagination, this film is really stunning. In that regard, it reminds me a bit of "What Dreams May Come," a movie about what happens after death. Jennifer Lopez ("Out of Sight") stars as Catherine Deane, a woman with a gift for making connections with other people's minds using this high-tech equipment. Most people don't have the gift, according to the story. Anyway the subjects are strung up with wires attached to form-fitting suits. Ah yes, always an excuse to show off the bodies of the ladies.

Lopez, a child psychologist, has been trying to make contact with a young boy in a coma, but is making very slow progress, and funding of the project is in doubt, a Hollywood cliché about the funding of scientific projects. Yeah, like nobody's going to fund the greatest interrogation tool ever invented. Guess who would be interested in that? The same guys who would be interested in the "Hollow Man" invisibility trick.

So we've got all of these wonderful images, reminiscent of Salvador Dali's paintings, surrealistic deserts in which reality is anything you can think of, wonderful stuff. There are amazing visuals supervised by Kevin Tod Haug ("Fight Club") and Clay Pinney, the special effects coordinator ("Independence Day") and production designer Tom Foden (Gus Van Sant's "Psycho"). This is visual imagination of the highest order. Unfortunately, the story takes a very ugly turn.

Lopez is recruited by FBI Agent Peter Novak (Vince Vaughn, who played Norman Bates in the aforementioned remake of "Psycho') to go into the mind of a vicious serial killer, Carl Stargher (Vincent D'Onofrio of "Men in Black") in order to find out where his last victim is. Stargher has gone into a catatonic state and is not expected to recover. We are treated to scenes of horrible cruelty as Stargher tortures, then kills his victims then mutilates their bodies, all in the name of entertainment.

Lopez goes into the mind of the killer and discovers he was perfectly O.K. until he was baptized into the Christian faith. This is pretty standard stuff for Hollywood. A rare exception is "Bless the Child." Just once, I'd like to see a movie featuring New Age, Tree-Hugging, Buddhist serial killers. It probably won't happen with the director of this movie. Tarsem Singh is a native of India who had never directed a movie prior to this one. He's a music video and commercial guy, but he does a great job with this film. It looks like he has a bright future.

Needless to say, the mind of the serial killer is not a nice place to be, except for a pre-Christian inner child roaming around in there. In addition to all the ugliness inside this killer's mind there's also another murder in the film gussied up as euthanasia. I can't really emphasize enough that while some of these images are beautiful, there are also a lot of images and ideas there are very repulsive and grotesque. This is a very powerful and disturbing film.

Jennifer Lopez does a fine job as the lead character in the film and Vince Vaughn is quite good as the heroic FBI agent. While the story does not bear close scrutiny, it is compellingly told. It is a fantastic visual trip. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2000 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)