“I’m Special Agent Kessel, in charge of the FBI and Department Of Justice’s joint task force on deranged and violent criminals. In the most extreme and violent cases traditional forensic investigations can be inadequate. In these instances, to hunt down the most vicious and elusive killers and psychopaths, we solicit the assistance of civilians with extraordinary gifts. Catherine Deane was one of them… now there’s another.”
That other is Maya (Santiago). It has been quite a few years since I saw The Cell. I was going to go back and watch the original again to get myself prepared for reviewing this direct to video sequel. Time didn’t allow for such conveniences, but in the end it wouldn’t have helped anyway. There are two reasons. The first is that the first film is only available on DVD and not yet out in a high definition release. It would have created quite a disparity, particularly when dealing with such visual exotic worlds as The Cell dealt with, and I assumed the sequel would as well. Unfortunately, there are no such visual stunning abstractions in this film beyond an irrelevant prologue scene. The second reason it would not have helped is that this film obviously has no connection to the original at all. The above introduction is about as close as the two films ever get. Maya does not enter dreams. She’s merely a psychic, with no more power or flair than Johnny Smith from The Dead Zone or Alison from Medium. Yes, she can enter our killers head, but it merely allows her to see what he sees. To feel what he’s feeling. Gone are the imaginative journeys deep inside the subconscious of the disturbed mind. This one is strictly in the mold of tracking down a rather brutal serial killer.
Maya is helping the feds track down a particularly heinous killer, known as The Cusp. She has the ability to enter the killer’s brain and using his vision of what is around him, guide the feds to his location. There are dangers, however. If Maya dies inside of this vision, her body will die also. She also has a direct contact during these visions which allows her and the killer to interrelate. That means he’s as much in her mind as she is in his. She ends up blowing the capture and the victim dies. Blaming herself, Maya leaves the force and opens up a private little psychic shop where she finds missing persons…and dogs… for a fee. When The Cusp reemerges, the Feds ask her to once again join the team to try to capture the brutal killer. He kills his victims over and over again, only to revive them immediately after their death. He does this until he breaks their spirit and they beg him to kill them permanently. We also discover that Maya was the only victim who ever got away. Her constant deaths brought about a chemical reaction in her brain that has given her this psychic ability. Now the niece of a sheriff is the latest abductee. The feds hone in on the sheriff as their prime suspect. Maya knows he’s not guilty. She helps him to escape, and the pair must track down and capture the real killer before the Feds get the sheriff.
If you’re a fan of the original film, you will naturally have some very legitimate expectations about what you might find in a film that calls itself a sequel. Most important of these expectations is the amazingly visceral journey through distorted and colorful dreamscapes. In the original Jennifer Lopez’s character spent almost the entire film inside the mind of the killer. She walked caverns of his distorted memories. She encountered incredible creatures and convoluted characters. It was a maze filled with puzzles to his psyche that she had to unravel in order to find a victim he had stashed away. There is none of that here. The brief segments where Maya is inside of The Cusp’s mind are merely tired old camera tricks that distort color and shape. There are no flourishing landscapes of the mind here. It is all rather mundane. In the end it’s a very tired serial killer plot that we’ve seen a hundred times before. The surprise perpetrator isn’t really a surprise at all if you’ve been paying attention. The resulting climactic “mind dual” is a visual joke. There is nothing at all captivating by the visuals here, which is exactly what set The Cell apart from other genre attempts. It’s the one stylistic element that is essential for a film to be considered a sequel, an element completely missing from this direct to video wannabe.
Tessie Santiago isn’t bad as Maya. She’s certainly believable, but she isn’t given really good dialog here. She doesn’t appear to have any chemistry at all with Chris Bruno, who pretty much brought his sheriff role over from The Dead Zone. Both appear to be good actors but have little or nothing to work with here. It doesn’t help that they had little prep time together as Bruno was cast almost last minute. Frank Whaley also comes over from The Dead Zone. He’s definitely a better actor than he shows here. One can only assume that the four writers it took to pound out this bad script might have needed a fifth (perhaps scotch or bourbon) to get it right. The feature appears to indicate in a slip by director Iacofano that the film was actually originally a standalone story that had the title added later, obviously to cash in on the name. I can believe that totally.
The Cell 2 is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with a VC-1 codec. If this film had followed the style of the original this might have been a very impressive image, indeed. Instead the picture actually looks quite mundane even with the high definition detail the release offers. The mind f/x are so lame they just look silly in HD. There are moments when you do get a bit of WOW in the image. In the beginning we see some images from the first film during the prologue. This makes me hungry for a HD version of that film. There’s this dash of red against a black background as the red attired woman flies through a dreamscape. It’s the perfect collision of contrast, color, and deep pitch black levels. Unfortunately, the rest of the film pales in comparison. It was a mistake to include the thrilling footage in the intro. I understand it was pretty much the only thread that ties these films together, but it set up expectations the film is never able to approach.
The Dolby TrueHD Audio track does a fairly solid job. Surrounds are used to good effect. There’s a copter flight in the beginning that shows off a dynamic and realistic mix. Most of the film isn’t quite so lucky. It’s fine. It’s just a lot of dialog, which keeps the film very much front and center. There are some odd f/x used during the mind encounters in an attempt to build an atmosphere of some kind. It ends up just sounding rather annoying.
The Cell 2 – Behind The Scenes: (SD) (30:02) It’s a bigger than usual love fest. Words like amazing, one of a kind, spectacular, phenomenal, and incredible get tossed around like confetti at a victory parade. The cast and crew spend all of the time patting each other on the back and little time trying to explain what this thing has to do with the original film.
I get it. I really do. The Cell was a pretty big hit and the studios are feeling the recession a bit like the rest of us. Certainly there are films out there printing money like their own personal mint, but overall things are a little down. Why not cash in on some untapped franchise potential. It’s all well and good, but is it really asking that much to want it to have something to do with the original? Apparently so. The crew here was mostly a television group of people and it shows. There’s an obvious lack of imagination in the scope of the project. Fair enough. Everybody’s got to start somewhere. The Cell just isn’t beginners’ material. “Maybe not a major motion picture, but certainly a movie of the week.”