Long before Jennifer Lopez became "Jenny from the Block", she was acting in a variety of some-what risky films, such as Oliver Stone's U-Turn, Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight, and other flicks that make the stars current output of family friendly romantic comedies seem as inane as...well.. they are. The Cell is a movie that benefitted from her pop star status, but was made before she actually became the difficult diva she now embodies, and is therefore a TRL free serial killer sci-fi horror fantasy that is as dreamy as the star's billion dollar arse.
Lopez plays Catherine Deane, a child psychologist who works for a privately funded experimental research facility that is developing a technique to enter the minds of comatose people through dreams, interact with their sub-conscious, and, hopefully, draw them out of their slumber.
Meanwhile, Carl Stargher (D'Onofrio), a vicious serial killer who kidnaps women and locks them up in glass cells that fill with water over a period of days, succumbs to a massive seizure and falls into a coma himself. Federal agent Peter Novak (Vaughn) arranges to have Catherine venture inside Stargher's mind in the hopes that she will be able to find out where the killer's latest victim is being held before time runs out.
While I have never been that impressed with Lopez as a musician, I have to say she is one of the most likeable actresses in the current crop, and her turn in The Cell is no exception. Her Catherine Deane radiates a warmth and genuine caring that is quite believable. Vaughn's exhausted agent Novak is a bit of a cliche' but then again his role isn't very defined, other than to serve as the impetus for Deane and Stargher's interaction. It is D'Onofrio who truly carries the film, however, with his brilliant portrayal of the tortured Stargher. D'Onofrio simply rules the screen with every second he is featured, and gives us a truly mult-dimensional character that we sympathize with as much as we despise.
The Cell is not without it's share of problems, however, and most of that rests on director Tarsem Singh's shoulders. The director's previous work was primarily in music video, and it shows in the way scenes jump in and out of each other with the attention span of a 8 year old. While much of the film is supposed to take place in the realm of dreams, Singh's approach to the "real world" isn't all that different from the fantasy sequences, thus lessening their impact. The film is also much too reliant on visuals and that's a shame because the cast here is a more than adequate bunch who seemingly have to compete with the set's for screen time.
The Cell is actually one of those movies that are better on DVD than in the theatre with a simply gorgeous transfer and fantastic Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The film is tailor made for the medium, and looks incredible on a big screen television! The New Line Platinum Series continues to be one of the best values in DVD, and The Cell is a prime example of this. While not as feature packed as some of the companies more high profile releases, we do get some nice goodies including a very thorough commentary with Singh, a special effects mini documentary that shows just how much work went into those costumes and sets, a "breakdown" of director Singh by his film crew, and an interactive Brain Map and Empathy Test that proves that I am neither empathic or even remotely suited to a career in psychology. There are also the pre-requisite features that come with all DVD's such as the trailer, bios, etc.
The Cell is a better than average film that could have been superb if not for the directors lack of experience with a standard narrative. The performances, when allowed, are wonderful, and, although they hog much of the film, one cannot deny the beauty of the sets and costumes that occupy the dream worlds. The film suffers from style over substance however, leaving one wishing that Singh had a smaller budget and would have focused more on the characters and less on their surroundings. As a DVD purchase, it rates highly simply because of the film's amazing transfer. It's a definite benchmark DVD and is ideal for showing of your systems visual and audio capabilities, plus it doesn't hurt that it's also a pretty damned good thriller that fans of the genre will revisit again and again.