The Cell

Directed by Tarsem Singh
Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn, Vincent D'Onofrio, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Jake Weber, Dylan Baker.
MPAA Rating: R for bizarre violence and sexual images, nudity and language.

Review by Matt Heffernan <>
August 19, 2000

In just a few years, Jennifer Lopez has gone from "In Living Color" Fly Girl to Hollywood It Girl. Certainly she has talent in acting, singing, and dancing, but her greatest asset is her beauty. Her latest film is a perfect vehicle for her, since all it really requires is somebody who photographs well.

In The Cell, Lopez plays Catherine Deane, a child psychologist who works on a revolutionary project. A billionaire's son is in a coma after an accident, so he has funded a mechanism that allows Catherine to enter the child's still-active mind and communicate with him through a form of virtual reality.

When a serial murderer (Vincent D'Onofrio) is captured after falling into a coma, she is asked to enter his mind. He has a victim that is still trapped in a cell that will fill up with water automatically, drowning her. FBI Agent Peter Novak (Vince Vaughn) has seen videotape of a previous victim's demise, but doesn't know where the cell is located. He believes that they can still save the potential victim if Catherine finds out the location from the murderer's mind.

And oh, what a mind it is! The most striking part of The Cell (and, indeed, of any film that has come out this year) is the incredible production design of this subconscious universe. Computer graphics mixed with intense photography and editing create an environment unlike any ever seen on film. Director Tarsem Singh (making his first feature, but is so far best known for his video for REM's "Losing My Religion") frees the camera from spatial logic and physics with incredible skill in several sequences.

It's only a shame that they had to enter the physical world. Those scenes are thoroughly unremarkable, supported by weak (and often laughable) dialogue from Mark Protosevich's screenplay. It's his first, so it may be excused, even if it threatens to undermine the whole film. The actors never seem to connect well with their characters, and it hurts the story.

Somebody must like his work, though. Protosevich has written another film: Impostor, a sci-fi film also starring D'Onofrio and coming out this fall. In fact, D'Onofrio has been a very busy boy, with the Abbie Hoffman biopic Steal This Movie also coming out this week. However, this is the film more likely to get the public's attention. The Cell is an art film for the masses -- dumbed down just enough to get wide distribution.

Update, August 28, 2000: Impostor, which first began advertisement several months ago, has now been pushed off for release next spring.

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The Cell (2000)

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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan