Sadly, there's nowhere to run
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, November 19, 2010
Russell Crowe delivers a glum, recessive performance as a community college professor lured into a life on the lam in "The Next Three Days." The movie's best scene, in which Crowe's character encounters an author played by Liam Neeson, subliminally nods to "Taken," the action thriller starring Neeson that became a breakout hit two years ago. But "The Next Three Days" never achieves the earlier film's taut intensity. Rather it plods along dutifully, with the occasional zigzag into contrivance, tidy coincidence and outright preposterousness.
When "The Next Three Days" opens, Pittsburgh literature teacher John Brennan (Crowe) is meeting his wife, Lara (Elizabeth Banks), for dinner with John's brother and his bombshell wife. Almost immediately, Lara and her sister-in-law begin arguing, the fight getting more heated; later, in the car, John and Lara enjoy an illicit moment of post-catfight sex. The scenes are clearly meant to bring Lara's impulses and passions to the forefront of filmgoers' minds when, the next day, she's charged with having murdered a co-worker just moments before arriving at the restaurant.
John goes to every legal length to prove his wife's innocence, but when he exhausts those avenues and Lara is facing a lengthy prison term, he takes matters into his own hands. This is when "The Next Three Days," which was written and directed by Paul Haggis ("Crash," "In the Valley of Elah"), turns into a vigilante action thriller for the Internet age, with the mild-mannered teacher cadging advice on breaking into cars from YouTube video. Neeson plays an ex-con who has written books on breaking out of jail, and he provides a welcome note of vividness to an otherwise drab proceeding. When John decides to plunge into the world of drug dealers and meth labs, "The Next Three Days" might as well be titled "Grim and Grimmer."
Although "The Next Three Days" features some nifty chases and a terrific Pittsburgh cop duo played by Jason Beghe and Aisha Hinds (the latter of whom can also be seen in the Pennsylvania-set "Unstoppable"), its chief problem is what the professional call "rootability." Banks, who takes her looks down-market to play the prison-bound Lara, never works up enough sympathy for the audience to egg John on. (Later, she seems to have found a source of magical hair highlights and Velcro rollers during a crucial sequence.)
Some terrific twists and double feints at the end notwithstanding, "The Next Three Days" never fully embraces its identity as pulp entertainment. Instead Haggis constantly reminds viewers of his own high-mindedness by larding the movie with literary pretensions, such as underlining John's Quixotic quest by having him teach "Don Quixote." We get it, we get it. We just don't care.
Contains violence, drug material, profanity, sexuality and thematic elements.