Schizoid serial killer Carl Stargher (Vincent D'Onofrio) has been captured at last, but a neurological seizure has rendered him comatose, and FBI agent Peter Novak (Vince Vaughan) has no way to determine the location of Stargher's latest and still-living victim. To probe the secrets contained in Stargher's traumatized psyche, the FBI recruits psychologist Catherine Deane (Jennifer Lopez), who has mastered a new technology that allows her to enter the mind of another person. What she finds in Stargher's head is a theater of the grotesque, which, as envisioned by first-time director Tarsem Singh, is a smorgasbord of the surreal that borrows liberally from the Brothers Quay, Czech animator Jan Svankmajer, Hieronymous Bosch, Salvador Dali, and a surplus of other cannibalized sources.
This provides one of the wildest, weirdest visual feasts ever committed to film, and The Cell earns a place among such movie mind-trips as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Altered States, What Dreams May Come, and Un Chien Andalou. Is this a good thing? Sure, if all you want is freakazoid eye-candy. If you're looking for emotional depth, substantial plot, and artistic coherence, The Cell is sure to disappoint. The pop-psychology pablum of Mark Protosevich's screenplay would be laughable if it weren't given such somber significance, and Singh's exploitative use of sadomasochistic imagery is repugnant (this movie makes Seven look tame), so you're better off marveling at the nightmare visions that are realized with astonishing potency. The Cell is too shallow to stay in your head for long, but while it's there, it's one hell of a show. --Jeff Shannon
Sounding more like a standup comedian than a serious filmmaker in his feature-length commentary, director Tarsem Singh (a veteran of glossy TV commercials and music videos) clearly reveals that dazzling visuals took priority over plot and character in The Cell
. This emphasis is echoed throughout the DVD's bonus features, especially in a featurette "tribute" to Singh by primary members of his creative team. While the deleted scenes are interesting, they add nothing to the finished film, so it's easy to see why they were deleted. Detailed examination of the film's special effects offers a first-rate primer on the state of the art of digital imagery. To lend an air of scientific credibility to the film's basic premise, a brain map and "empathy test" are included, inviting viewers to take a multiple-choice quiz to determine their level of empathy and compassion toward other human beings. (The lower your score, presumably, the more you have in common with serial killers.) --Jeff Shannon