From The Parallax Review Vaults: The Cell 2 (2009)

The following review originally was written for The Parallax Review, a film review site of which I was the co-founder and managing editor. I have decided to collect the writings I did for The Parallax Review and preserve them here. I will be posting a few of these older pieces every week. My review of The Cell 2 was for the “Sequelitis” column of The Parallax Review.

by Matt Wedge, Managing Editor

With Sequelitis, we strive to review all those odd, direct-to-video sequels of 20-year-old films. You know the ones: Low budget, unrecognizable cast, only tangentially related to the film it claims to follow? Do they hold a candle to the original, or do they reek of a distributor money-making ploy?

Unlike most of the films we cover in Sequelitis, The Cell 2 does not feature an obligatory based upon characters created by… credit. That’s because this sequel sports absolutely no connection to the first film. There is no decision to focus on a lesser supporting character from the first film or introduce a new character who claims to be the child or long-lost sibling of the original film’s protagonist. The only attempt the screenplay of The Cell 2 takes to make a connection to The Cell is to have a brief voiceover at the start by FBI Agent Kassel (Michael Flynn) that explains how sometimes the FBI uses people with special powers to help them in investigations, Catherine Deane (Jennifer Lopez in footage from The Cell) was one, and now there is another. You would think that Kassel was an important character if he was charged with explaining to the audience why this film actually is a sequel. But Kassel doesn’t have another bit of voiceover narration for the entire film and largely disappears after a few scenes in the first act.

This is just one of the many lapses in logic presented by the film’s four (!) writers and director Tim Iacofano. While The Cell also had severe plot gaps, director Tarsem Singh was able to use the script as a jumping off point to indulge in some truly breathtaking visuals that coupled with his skill at building suspense to create a film that was more than the sum of its parts. The filmmakers behind The Cell 2 have no such bold plans, settling for a dreadfully dull serial killer thriller with a perfunctory supernatural twist.

Maya (Tessie Santiago) is a psychic working with FBI agents Kassel and Skylar (Bart Johnson) to catch a serial killer with the terrible nickname of “The Cusp.” “The Cusp” kidnaps young women and then repeatedly kills them through different means, using CPR to bring them back so he can kill them again until he decides to finish them off by cutting out their hearts. Maya was one of the victims of “The Cusp,” but barely escaped with her life. The traumatic event gave her psychic abilities.

“The Cusp” strikes in a small town, killing two women and kidnapping a third who happens to be the niece of Harris (Chris Bruno), the local sheriff. Skylar swoops in and immediately bosses around Harris and Duncan (Frank Whaley), his ineffectual deputy. It isn’t long before Skylar is convinced that Harris is the killer, but Maya isn’t sure. When Skylar attempts to arrest Harris, Maya stops him and the two go on the run while searching for the real killer.

I’m not positive, but I can almost guarantee that this film did not begin its existence as a sequel to The Cell. Not only is the connection barely made via the laughable narration at the beginning, but the whole thing looks and feels like a cheaply shot pilot for a bad TV series. When you take into account the tame language, noticeable lack of blood, microscopic running time (barely 80 minutes before thirteen minutes of end credits), and a clumsily inserted sex scene that appears to have been shot on different film stock, and I’m fairly certain that was the intent of the production.

But the genesis of the project doesn’t matter — it’s just a rotten movie. Not only is the script rife with plot holes, the acting is subpar (aside from the slumming Whaley), the visual look of the film is flat and uninteresting, the special effects laughable, and the sequences of Maya looking into the killer’s mind — the stunning centerpiece of The Cell — are cringe-worthy in their ineptitude. These scenes actually reminded me of circa-1981 music videos. But not in a good way.

Perhaps the biggest mistake the film makes is trying to play up the mystery of the killer’s identity through the first act. The character who is eventually revealed as the killer is so obvious that I was surprised — I had assumed that character was intended as a red herring. But that’s the only surprise the film throws at the audience.

If you’re in the right frame of mind, The Cell 2 can work intermittently as a piece of unintentional comedy (especially an extended car chase through conveniently empty warehouses and stockyards that is beyond inept in its execution). But bad is still bad, even if there is a bit of entertainment value on display. If you liked The Cell, do yourself a favor and skip this trash. Instead, watch Tarsem Singh’s The Fall. It delivers on all the visual promise of his first film with a heartbreaking story, to boot.

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