Jennifer Lopez plays a social worker turned deep, deep head shrinker, thanks to cutting-edge technology that allows a person to project their consciousness into the mind of another person. She has only one patient, a young boy stuck in a psychosomatic coma whose parents are the billionaires funding the mind-travel tech.
Meanwhile, the always likeable Vince Vaughn plays an FBI profiler who is about to catch a nasty serial killer. His victims are all women, and he kills in a hands-off way by trapping them in a glass-walled cell that slowly, over a period of a day or two, fills with water and drowns its occupant. The feds find the killer just moments after a massive brain hemorrhage sends him into an permanent coma. With a fresh victim in the killing cell, it's up to J. Lo to go braindiving so Vince can save the girl.
The Cell was released about a year after Jennifer Lopez's first album came out, an event I like to refer to as "when Jennifer Lopez went crazy." I really liked her in Out of Sight in 1998, and I think she's a decent actress, but I don't think I'll ever accept the polymath megastar I'm told she's become. I often think it's still letting the herd determine your actions to doggedly run the other way, but in this case I don't care. The Cell is the last time I decided to take her seriously at all. But, in the little-recognized court of Octopunk's opinion, this was a great movie to go out on.
The real-world stuff is a better-than-average cop thriller, and you really feel for that girl in the tank. I recall in 2000 how the serial killer's methods were a bit off-putting to some people, since, besides being necessary for the plot, watching girls drowned that way is less original than it is just plain sick. (He videotapes their demises, and watching the previous victim's terrified rantings is genuinely unsettling.) It's funny how hollow that complaint sounds these days, after four Saw movies and a score of automated horror machines.
It's the part of the movie that takes place in the miiiiiind that's the winning factor here. The visuals in The Cell are so knock-you-down stunning I really thought it should have been nominated for an Oscar in production design. Unbelievably rich and creative, these visions take full advantage of the fact that in the mind you can do anything, regardless of scale or logic.
The movie hits you right from the start, with an exquisite display of the vast desert that is the poor coma boy's internal world. You can just make out a tiny J. Lo tromping up the very backbone of this massive dune.
Set against these real locations are the phantasmic corridors of the killer's mind, vast and beautiful and dangerous. (I've chosen a rather monochrome group of images here, but the whole display is much more colorful.)
Once inside the killer's headbones, J. Lo finds both the sympathetic side of the man, seen as a young child, and the demonic, wrathful killer side, who appears in an imaginative array of fearsome aspects. In one scene he sports a cape hundreds of feet long, wrapped around the inside of his mighty throne room; in another, he's a predatory snake man. Desperate to help this man who cannot be helped, J. Lo reverses the flow and invites the little boy into her own calming world seen below, which in 2000 prompted me to say aloud, in the theater, "Wow, Jennifer Lopez has gone completely crazy."
Don't worry about her, though. J. Lo can't hurt you. I don't think the gore-levels here are too much for anyone on this team, and I'd strongly urge you to check out this fantastic journey of the mind.