The mind of a killer is hardly what you'd call uncharted territory these days. We got a pretty good insight into why, say, Silence Of The Lambs' Buffalo Bill liked to cut girls up, and the more recent Bone Collector was only too happy to clumsily expose what made its killer tick. Yet, while The Cell is hardly taking us anywhere new, it makes up for being another genre re-tread by treating the madman mind-trip literally, and delivering some captivating visuals.
It's obvious that first-time feature director Tarsem has seen The Matrix. Several times. The Cell's dream sequences, for example, employ techniques similar to the Wachowski's celebrated bullet-time effects, and the fluid CGI-based action captures much the same feel.
Using these techniques, Tarsem cleverly depicts Stargher's nightmarish psyche with some kaleidoscopic optics, and isn't afraid to weave in plenty of disturbing, futuristic and erotic imagery. For a tame taster, check out the opening scene, which sees Lopez, decked out in a fairy princess outfit, riding a black stallion through a desert while a confused little boy hiding behind a log suddenly morphs into the Bogey Man.
The Out Of Sight star-turned-MTV pop queen certainly puts on a good show, but her character is far too underdeveloped to encourage any sympathy or empathy. There's a whiff of sexual chemistry between her and Vince Vaughn, but not quite enough to make the screen fizz. And although Vaughn is convincing enough in his FBI agent role, it's the burly, surly Vincent D'Onofrio who delivers the meatiest performance.
However, with a so-so script and plot-lite approach, The Cell ain't really much of an actor's movie, and Tarsem is more concerned with wowing his audience with flashy visuals than drawing top-notch performances from his cast. Ironic, really, that such a brain-screwer of a movie should forget to have much of a brain itself.
The storyline's redundant and the character's shallow, yet Tarsem veils such flaws with his vibrant, trippy visuals. Lopez fans will lap it up, and FX enthusiasts should sink into the stylistics comfortably - - but anyone craving substance will find The Cell empty.