Dir: Tarsem Singh. US. 2000. 108 mins.
Prod cos: Caro-McLeod Productions, Radical Media. US dist: New Line. Int'l sales: New Line International (+1 310 967 6700). Exec prods: Donna Langley, Carolyn Manetti. Prods: Julio Caro, Eric McLeod. Scr: Mark Protosevich. DoP: Paul Laufer. Prod des: Tom Foden. Ed: Paul Rubell, Robert Duffy. Mus: Howard Shore. Main cast: Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughan, Vincent D'Onofrio, Dylan Baker, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Jake Weber, Pruitt Taylor Vince.
Like so many before him, award-winning commercial and music video director Tarsem aka Tarsem Singh makes his first movie The Cell with all the style, visual razzle-dazzle and superficiality of a short form entertainment. Striking to look at but dramatically malnourished, New Line Cinema's only entry in the summer box office stakes is a bizarre fusion of Seven and What Dreams May Come - if you can imagine that.
Box office results should be strong. Some critics have already championed it as audacious, the key art and trailers feature some beguiling imagery and there hasn't been a good old serial killer thriller for many months. However, the emptiness, nay silliness, at its core should cut short its stay in theatres. It will perform along the lines of The Bone Collector rather than The Silence Of The Lambs.
The very "high concept" behind this one is that serial killer Carl Stargher (D'Onofrio) has gone into a coma while his final victim sits in a hidden, booby-trapped cell. The only way to track her down is by using a new technology being developed by Baker and Jean-Baptiste which enables someone to enter Stargher's unconscious mind. That person is psychologist Catherine Deane (Lopez) who literally plunges into the bizarre dreamscape of Stargher's mind, experiencing and confronting his dreams, fantasies and nightmares while putting her own sanity at risk. Vaughan plays the FBI agent on the case racing against time to find the final victim alive.
Tarsem clearly relishes the fantasy sequences with their bold images and grotesque special effects even though they actually fail to evoke much sense of menace in themselves. Lopez is wasted in a grossly under-developed part, although she gets to wear some nice frocks courtesy of Oscar winner Eiko Ishioka. And her discoveries - that Stargher was an abused child - are hardly the sophisticated insights into the mind of a serial killer the movie promises.