When it came out in 2000, The Cell was a hot button topic among movie critics and film fans. Some found music video director turned proposed auteur Tarsem Singh's over the top take on the crime thriller to be one of the most inventive and eye-popping cinematic experiences in a long time. Others found it to be self-indulgent drivel. Indeed, for everyone who called in a masterpiece, another called it a mess. While it was hard to deny Singh's work behind the lens, the movie's main elements - the plot and characterization - clearly left something to be desired. So it comes as quite a surprise that, almost a decade later, someone at New Line thought a sequel to said hit or miss movie would be a good idea - especially with none of the original cast or crew involved. Indeed, such an idea would seem ridiculous, considering that much of what made The Cell so different was the specific personnel involved. Of course, when money talks, few listen to actual reason. Perhaps this is why The Cell 2/ The Cell2 is so incomprehensible. It fails as both follow-up and as its own film.
Maya Casteneda didn't always work as a psychic "consultant" for the FBI. Years before, she was an unfortunate victim of the serial killer known as 'The Cusp'. A maniac who "murdered" his prey over and over again (he devised his means of death so that they would allow him to 'revive' his captives to extended the torture), Maya managed somehow to escape. Now, she tries to help the Feds hunt down this heinous criminal. Unfortunately, a mistake makes her services questionable. As time passes, The Cusp returns to his horrific ways, and Agent Skylar reluctantly seeks out Maya's help. Seems the niece of a small town Sheriff named Harris has gone missing, and other disappearances in the area appear to be linked back to the cruel psychopath as well. Hoping she can "see" into the man's mind, Maya attempts to discover the killer's lair. But with time running out, and Harris quickly becoming a prime suspect, there may be no hope of saving the young lady - or any future casualty of this vile fiend.
The Cell 2 (or The Cell2 for the typographically inclined) is a sequel in name only - literally. It's the kind of inconsequential effort where you can envision the pitch meeting as the actual narrative meanders on and on. "Do we have J-Lo back? Or perhaps Vince Vaughn?", asks the weary studio exec. "No", replies the producer, sheepishly. "Is Tarseem on board, either behind or in support of someone behind the camera?" Again, the answer is a halting "No." As the rest of the requirements for revisiting this material are listed out - amazing visual effects, a filmmaker with some manner of visionary verve, a script that plays tricks with the serial killer genre...heck, something similar to the first film to hang our beleaguered hats on - the rip-off aroma becomes overripe and repugnant. By the time the ID of the villain is revealed (that is, if you haven't already guessed it within the first 15 minutes) your mind is working overtime trying to figure out what, exactly, is supposed to remind you of the infamous original. The fact that people die? Or that the FBI is investigating it? Indeed, if the film wasn't called The Cell 2/ The Cell2, you'd barely recognize any similarities.
Not that it really matters, as this is a thriller as filler, nothing more and a whole Helluva lot less. Someone with ownership and rights issues clearly wanted a piggyback payday and thought that trading on this title would be the best way to earn some indirect dosh. Sadly, such a sentiment stains every aspect of this production, from Tessie Santiago's inert performance as the ineffectual psychic Maya to the lack of any real CG eye candy. This is not a movie made in the same remote creative conception as the Tarseem tale - not in tone, approach, or ambition. The infrequent journey's into the "other" realm looks fake and cheaply realized. Budget is always an issue with such cobbled together attempts and the presence of four different screenwriters doesn't help matters much. Tim Iacofano's made-for-TV touch (he's responsible for directing five episodes of 24 a few years back) is evident in everything he does. Even the sequences that are supposed to impress, including a last act helicopter showdown, feel like outtakes from a slightly more ambitious broadcast entertainment.
So since it fails as a follow-up to a already known quantity, it is only fair to step back and see if The Cell 2/ The Cell2 works on its own terms. The answer should be obvious. For most of the movie, we watch as Santiago and co-star Bart Johnson (as determined douche FBI agent Skylar) spar like nine year olds on a playground, Chris Bruno's rugged sheriff interjecting his own testosterone-inspired bon mots into the expositional mix. Whaley is wasted in the film's first half, only to turn out irrational and illogical as a possible plot point. The mystery and the murders are never very interesting, especially since The Cusp's modus operandi - killing people and bringing them back, only to kill them again - is handled with all the suspense and subtlety of an offhand comment. If it was possible to pull for this film, it would be in the cinematography department. The image is colorful and vibrant, even for a no-budget indie effort. Sadly, most of such visual appeal appears to come from some massive post-production tweaking. Even in its making, The Cell 2/ The Cell2 is mechanical and fraudulent - just like its eventual entertainment value.
As stated before, the image here is quite impressive, if fake and overly processed. Ms. Santiago's skin tones can randomly go from bronze to orange, while Mr. Bruno gets the dark to darker treatment re: his everpresent five o'clock shadow. This New Line/Warners DVD offers the film in both a 1.33:1 full screen transfer and a more "cinematic" 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation and both look very good. Still, the digital tweaking is readily apparent, especially during the outdoor sequences where grasses become hyper-green and water turns an unnatural shade of aqua-blue.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix is mediocre, at best. Sure, there are times when the track attempts to mimic some manner of ambient atmosphere and multi-channel immersion, but for the most part, its just flat sonics without a lick of impressive attitude. There is also a similarly styled French version of the same track, and subtitles in English, Spanish, and "Francais" are also available.
An EPK level making of is all that's available, and for the most part, it's quite enjoyable. It is interesting to watch the cast and crew discuss the film in such serious, somber terms, truly believing that they are making something special here. Aside from such simple self-congratulation, however, there are no other bonus features to speak of.
Clearly, The Cell 2/ The Cell2 deserves nothing less than a Skip It. Even if you are a certified fan of the first film, believing everything that Tarsem Singh and his cast created back in 2000 was nothing short of brilliant, you'll be very disappointed by this incoherent cash grab. While there may be a few film fans eager to see something that takes the entire serial killer genre in a wholly different direction, it's safe to say that nothing this film has to offer will reinvent said motion picture category. For his part, Singh went on to make The Fall, taking six years and several shoots to realize his specialized vision. For its part, The Cell 2/ The Cell2 looks like it was created over a weekend by people who didn't give a damn about artistry or craft. It may be a noble failure, but it's a failure nonetheless.