. "The Cell"

A highly creative and visionary science fiction horror thriller, that depicts dream/nightmare imagery that might be someone's mind. Given that as a setting and the creative challenge it offers, it had better be firstrate or it'll crash and burn.

"The Cell" doesn't do either, but that doesn't mean it's a great movie for everyone. The vision is dark, evil, frightening and difficult, which, despite its competence, is simply not everyone's cup of tea. There are those who will hate it, but hating it is a reaction to its subject matter -- not its accomplishment as a step into an adventurous movie landscape.

Its newness has to do with the conceptual possibilities posed by today's computer culture. It's almost easy to believe that there could be a group of scientists whose technology has made it possible for a person to experience another's mind and to be able to influence it. In the opening of "The Cell", we are witnessing psychotherapist Catharine Deane (Jennifer Lopez) in the mind of a comatose teenage boy as she attempts to coax him out of his unconscious state.

It's this group's work that brings them to the attention of FBI agent Peter Novak (Vince Vaughn) and his team as they are valiantly devoting their considerable energies and resources to saving the most recent victim of the captured serial killer Carl Stargher (Vincent D'Onofrio). He ain't comin' out of his coma nohow, so the idea of someone going into his mind to find out where his captive is imprisoned so that they might rescue her, keeps them and the story going apace.

The virtues of the film start with the imagery that is consistently original and suggestive. This is not just cheap thrills but designed by a fertile artistic mind that I found I had to respect. There is a great vitality of ideas here.

A 2nd virtue is understated dialogue that nicely propels the story without excess or elaboration. The screenplay (by Mark Protosevich) and direction (Tarsem Singh) is very well calculated to serve the drama through effective economy, and it is a textbook example of how that should be done. At 107 minutes, it's precisely the right length and finds a good balance between reality and the virtual.

While Jennifer Lopez might not be as verbally adept at convincing anyone she's a scientist as some other actresses might be (Sigourney Weaver comes to mind), her exotic beauty fits well the visual structure of the work as her appearance in robes and costumes become an integral part of the mental/optical playground depicted.

These filmmakers -- all of them -- are worth watching in future. Tom Foden was the Production Designer, Paul Laufer, cinematographer, Kevin Tod Haug, visual effects supervisor and Tessa Posnansky, set decorator, to name a few on the visual side.

Highly recommended for those with a taste for the elements mentioned.

Estimated cost: $33,000,000. Projected U.S. Boxoffice: $60,000,000.

Rated M, for Masterful.

                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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