The Next Three Days
Directed by Paul Haggis. Starring Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Ty Simpkins, Olivia Wilde. (2010, PG-13, 122 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Nov. 26, 2010
Maybe taking a cue from his namesake dish, that much-maligned Scottish pudding concoction made with sheep innards and root vegetables, Haggis presents a mishmash of genres in this redo of Fred Cavayé's 2008 French film Pour Elle. Working with such familiar – and potentially dramatic – ingredients as jailbreaks, the wrongly accused, and femmes fatales, Haggis culls the least interesting bits from these scenarios to make a fatally confused film. A lumbering, sleepily engaged Crowe stars as literature professor John Brennan, whose wife, Lara (Banks), is abruptly accused of murder in the film's opening minutes and carted off to jail; with all the evidence against her, Lara is swiftly convicted and sentenced to life in prison. That's the last three years; the next three days mark the time John has to bust Lara out of jail before she is moved out of county to a more secure correctional facility. Long stretches of the film give way to detailing Brennan's careful assemblage of a plan – necessary in orchestrating an actual prison break, sure, but not the most scintillating thing to watch. Along the way, Haggis tosses in everything from mild puzzlers (what the hell are Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Daniel Stern, and Brian Dennehy all doing in go-nowhere bit parts?) to real plot head-scratchers (how did Brennan advance from "where do the bullets go?" to a shoot-’em-up at a meth lab in a matter of scenes?). There's only one psychologically intriguing character in the film, and she spends most of it behind bars: Banks, who usually restricts herself to comic parts, is a fiercely coiled enigma as Lara, a diabetic with rage issues and flattened platinum-blond locks (a terrible weave) who morphs in jail, along with her natural brown frizz, into something wilder still. She looks like she'd bring a palmed knife to a fist fight without a flutter of conscience, but the film is hardly interested in her. She pulls a doozy of a move in the third act – again: intriguing – but it only makes sense in the context that Haggis, fond of freeways (see Crash), had an action budget to burn. Despite his many accomplishments in TV and film, Haggis may go down in history as the helmer of the Academy's most notorious misstep. It's certainly not his fault that his ham-fisted Crash beat Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture in 2005, but, still, you'd think he'd aim higher. Haggis – the dish – now comes canned, and Haggis – the director – has made a film that feels about as fresh.