Trapped in Divadom

The Cell is now playing in theaters nationwide.





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It's really hard to take Jennifer Lopez seriously as an actress now that

she's a pop star. Those two realms don't mix well - just ask Madonna and

Janet, who have been trying to balance them successfully for years. The

problem is, as soon as we've seen anyone in that musical-überdiva light,

it's hard to see them as anything else. Even a strong cinematic vehicle

like The Cell couldn't possibly save any damage done.

Directed by famed music video and commercial director Tarsem Singh,

The Cell is a sci-fi thriller that mixes equal parts The Silence

of the Lambs and The Matrix. Just think - Clarice managing

literally to get into Hannibal's mind and getting trapped into thinking

that his thoughts were reality. It's a pretty cool concept, and The

Cell as a whole manages to pull it off well.

This time around the serial killer is Carl Stargher (Vincent D'Onofrio),

an aspirin-dependent runt whose bite is worse than his bark. His fetish?

Slowly drowning pretty young girls in a huge water chamber/jail cell and

then bleaching their bodies in preparation for a twisted part S/M, part

necrophiliac fantasy.

Vince Vaughn plays the FBI agent sent to track the killer down and who

thinks the case is closed once Stargher's place gets raided. The problem

is, Stargher is found lying on his kitchen floor in a coma and there is no

sign of him snapping out of it any time soon to divulge exactly where his

latest victim is held captive.

Enter Lopez's character, Catherine Deane. As a child therapist who uses

a state-of-the-art brain-mapping device to enter the mind of comatose

patients, she is asked to enter Stargher's mind to seek out the missing

girl's location. The technique, which involves being injected with drugs

and suspended from the floor in a skintight body suit, is of course pretty

wishy-washy, but in true Hollywood style, let's do away with any technical

nit-picking.

The best parts of the film are when we experience what Deane

experiences through this technique. Gritty, hellish mindscapes reign

supreme in Stargher's brain, while disturbing images this side of a Nine

Inch Nails video run rampant - from bleached-white human-size dolls to

blood rain. Unfortunately, unless you're a psych major or an assiduous

English major, you're probably not going to get much out of all the

symbolism.

Thankfully, director Singh presents everything as eye-candy that anyone

can view with intrigue. As the award-winning director of R.E.M.'s wondrous

"Losing My Religion" video, he pulls it all together in a tight, visual

masterpiece of a cinematic debut. A horse gets sliced alive into a dozen

sections, Deane flies into a dark room with the grace of a swan, a child's

every wish miraculously comes into fruition - it's all the stuff of dreams

brought to life, and Singh handles them with great style.

Conveniently, the killer's problems lie in his childhood, so Deane

seeks out his hurt inner child to try to unearth any helpful information.

Along the way, she encounters all of Stargher's fantastical alter egos and

soon gets so caught up in the intensity of it all that Vaughn's character

is sent in to help rescue her. He enters Stargher's mind to find a captive

Deane believing that Stargher's warped reality is real, so it becomes up to

him to show her the truth and finally track down where the missing girl is.

This is the point when Lopez appears in full-blast diva mode, decked

out in full nightmare-queen regalia complete with a giant neck brace and

massive hair. It's truly a fabulous moment. Sadly, that's actually the only

extent of us believing Lopez as the character of Deane. (And she's not even

really Deane in that scene, but a brainwashed slave instead.) In everything

previous to it, Deane has a way-vapid personality, only standing out when

she smokes a joint and walks around her house in her undies (for the

obligatory Lopez-booty shot). There is nothing dynamic for Lopez to work

with here as there was for her in Out Of Sight, a film that for a

second made us believe her as credible movie star.

She does have some great actors to work with - Vaughn fills his static

part with all the charm he can, and D'Onofrio plays his five roles/personae

with enthusiastic flare - but nothing can ever make us forget that the

woman before us is a chart-topping, music-video-churning, Puff Daddy-lovin'

pop diva. Selena? Sure. A cop who falls in love with George Clooney's

charming convict? Okay. A child therapist? I don't think so - not after the

fabulous "Waiting For Tonight" video and Versace Grammys dress have been so

ingrained in our minds.

Of course, The Cell itself manages to pull through any burden its

star may put on it. A great story, a fresh director and some great special

effects are to thank for that. While there is a point where Lopez's Deane

finally gets a spine and starts whooping some ass, by then it's too little,

too late. We're only left hoping her next single will be more entertaining.

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