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Friday, November 19, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW 
The Next Three Days
A Fugitive, A Frenzy And A Falsehood


Elizabeth Banks as Lara Brennan and Russell Crowe as John Brennan in Paul Haggis's "The Next Three Days". 
Lionsgate

by Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW
Friday, November 19, 2010

"The Next Three Days" is a splintered, reality-defying action drama about a wrongly-convicted woman Lara (Elizabeth Banks) whose college professor-husband John (Russell Crowe) seeks justice for her.  He will have to jump through hoops, some of them metaphorically engulfed in flames.  It is how John jumps, and how Paul Haggis' new film dances impossibly between the raindrops that crystallizes its ultimate failing and folly.

The film, based on Fred Cavayé's French drama "Pour Elle", begins with a flashback sequence.  There's blood.  There's a weary voice.  A speeding car.  Soon we are at a dinner with Lara and John and some friends.  An argument breaks out.  It's a relatively trivial dispute, but Mr. Haggis appears to magnify its importance within the story, using it and the attendant circumstances of the scene to inform the entire film and one character's predicament.

All of this occurs in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

Location isn't the problem with this film, which opened today across the U.S.  The main problem with "The Next Three Days" is Mr. Haggis's screenplay.  The characters look more intelligent than they are allowed to be, and their sharp about-face turns undermine them -- and appear solely in service of creating consternation and tension for the film's sake.  In the end we don't care about the characters because they don't sell their situations well.  As a result the audience is disengaged, going through the motions.

This unsettled film unfolds every few minutes as a different one: love story, legal drama, mystery, action drama, "Fugitive" chase picture, police drama, suspense film, whodunnit.  Choppy and uneven, there's never a comfortable rhythm.  You feel as if you're channel surfing or watching a scrambled movie, a movie that lasts more than two hours and ten minutes -- which is about 30 minutes too long. 

Mr. Haggis may have wanted to weave multiple stories.  Anthology worked to an extent in "Crash" five years ago, but here the shifting story styles stick out like a sore thumb or a patchwork quilt of styles that don't mesh.  Mr. Haggis has employed heavy symbolism in much better films like "In The Valley Of Elah", but in "The Next Three Days" he's forcing the action with a sledgehammer when he should have used a toothpick.

By the time you see John unfurl a map and plaster it on a wall, you've long been disillusioned with the atmosphere and parameters in which he operates.  When you see Lara do what she does in the film's second half, you are tempted to laugh out loud.  The relationship between Lara and John is uneasy at best, and the two main actors lack chemistry even though Ms. Banks and Mr. Crowe are adequate overall.  An escapist played by Liam Neeson is clichéd and unconvincing, while another character's role as a potential love interest in introduced then abandoned like a bride at the altar.  Too much is going on and the director and company are trying too hard.

In short, "The Next Three Days" is a bridesmaid to action dramas.  It wants so badly to get hitched to the genre, but it falls flat, and painfully so.

With: Olivia Wilde, Brian Dennehy, Lennie James, Helen Carey, Allan Steele, Daniel Stern, Aisha Hinds, Jason Beghe, RZA, Jonathan Tucker, Kevin Corrigan, Moran Atias.

"The Next Three Days" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for violence, drug material, language, some sexuality and thematic elements.  The film's running time is two hours and 13 minutes.

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