The Cell 2
Directed By: Tim Iacofano
Starring: Tessie Santiago, Chris Bruno, Frank Whaley, Bart Johnson, Michael Flynn, Amee Walden
In The Cell 2, we meet Maya Casteneda (Santiago), a psychically gifted woman with a troubled past who assists the FBI in tracking down serial killers. As the film opens, she is working with Special Investigative Agent Kessel (Flynn) and arrogant FBI Commander Skylar (Johnson) to track down a particularly nasty serial killer who calls himself "The Cusp". The Cusp's MO is to capture his female victims and then continuously kill and revive them over the course of several days before ultimately cutting their hearts out. Maya is able to use her abilities to find him, but not in time to save his latest victim and prevent his escape. She is traumatized by the experience and troubled by an inexplicable psychic blind spot that prevents her from seeing the killer's face. She returns to civilian life until several months later when she is coaxed back into duty by Kessel and Skylar after The Cusp takes another victim. The latest abductee is Penelope (Walden), the niece of a local Sherriff named Harris (Bruno), who insists on working the case along with his Deputy, Duncan (Whaley), despite the FBI's attempts to press their jurisdiction.
If the above description sounded at all like a film that would be compelling or exciting, let me disabuse you of that notion immediately. This is a terrible film on nearly all levels and easily the worst film I have been presented to review since I started working in this capacity for the Home Theater Forum (you are of the hook, One Missed Call, North Star, and Ace Ventura, Jr.: Pet Detective, but Hot Rods to Hell and Queen of Outer Space are still the champs of "so bad they're good").
While bad writing, bad acting, and ugly production design are plentiful enough to offend any viewer, I imagine that fans of the original The Cell will be especially offended. Other than sharing the premise of a psychic helping to track a serial killer, this film really has nothing to do with the earlier film. A connection is shoe-horned in by some opening narration from Michael Flynn and Maya attaches some wires to her head when doing her psychic thing, but they are not fooling anybody. I thought The Cell was an ultimately unsuccessful film which nonetheless contained absolutely amazing visuals with a striking, disturbingly beautiful, use of color by director Tarsem. This nominal sequel is relentlessly ugly in its use of garish popping neon hues. Criticism of the filmmakers' depiction of misogynistic torture that would be expected to come from some channels will likely be set aside due to the larger concern about torture inflicted on actual viewers who keep their eyes trained on this film for an hour and a half or more. The commitment to visual bad taste extends even to the make-up of its leading lady, who appears to have about three coats of "orange not occurring in nature" bronzer applied as a base with glowing pink blush on top.
This may be the first time I have commented on a non effects make-up in a film I have reviewed. Beyond the just plain aesthetic awfulness of it, I think the reason it sticks out like a sore thumb is the wanton abuse of close-ups by director Tim Iacofano. I sometimes felt like the film was 90% close-ups, which added to the very cheap "made for TV" vibe of the whole enterprise. Even a car chase in the middle of the film feels like a series of close-ups … of the cars. This is a bit puzzling because Iacofano is a director who has made very cinematic-looking television episodes of shows like 24 and CSI: New York.
Left with very little to admire, I found myself looking for elements of the film I could enjoy for their exquisitely campy badness. Chief among these is the performance of Michael Flynn as the FBI Special Investigator. His is the type of stiff performance that was so effectively lampooned in films like Airplane and The Naked Gun, and were it not for the fact that William Shatner is still alive and well, I would have sworn that he was channeling his ghost. My second favorite element of Ed Wood-like badness occurs late in the film where a character hits another character in the back with an axe. The camera angle is chosen so you can actually see the rubber blade bending sideways on the victim's back. It is noticeable at regular speed, but I recommend multiple re-winds in slow motion for extra enjoyment. The film pretends that it is keeping the true identity of The Cusp a secret for about half of its running time, but the filmmakers lay a trail of bread crumbs out making the identity so obvious so early that anyone who is surprised by the revelation could probably also achieve a similar adrenaline rush by watching an episode of Blue's Clues. An honorable mention goes to the closing credits which are intercut with a bunch of helicopter shots of the mountains for no discernible reason other than that they probably had a bunch of footage left over from the opening sequence. Easily three quarters of the shots have the shadow and/or the blades of the helicopter in-frame. An homage to The Shining, perhaps?
The transfer fills the entire 16:9 enhanced screen. A 4:3 reformatted version is also available, but i did not review it. There are some very thin halos along high contrast edges that are hardly a nuisance unless you are watching on a large projection set-up and actively looking for them. Otherwise, the transfer is a solid rendering of this garishly ugly film. Colors are purposely unnatural and frequently quite tacky, but all indications are that this was the filmmakers' intent.
The 5.1 mix is very tilted towards the front three channels. Even when the sound field gets aggressively directional during the most harrowing "inside the killer's mind" sequences, the mix swirls most of the effects across the front channels with mostly ambient support in the rears. That being said, the soundtrack is rendered with excellent fidelity and little audible distortion via this Dolby Digital 5.1 encoding. A Dolby Digital 5.1 French dub is also available.
The only proper special features is a 30 minute featurette called: The Cell 2: Behind the Scenes. It is very much an electronic press kit puff piece in which all participants spend most of their time heaping inordinate amounts of praise on their collaborators. Through the cracks in the love-fest, we are allowed a few glimpses into some technical aspects of the production including stunts, visual effects, and sound design as well as some brief discussions of how they tried to work within the constraints of the film's modest budget. On-screen commentators include Director Tim Iacofano, actors Santiago, Johnson, Bruno, & Whaley, Producer/Writers Alex Barder and Lawrence Silverstein, Stunt Coordinator/2nd Unit Director Kathy Jarvis, Lead Visual Effects Artist Gregg Detrich, Lead Compositor Joe Russo, and Sound Designer Adam Johnston.
When the disc is first inserted in a player, the viewer is greeted with the following promos presented in 4:3 video letterboxed when appropriate with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound unless otherwise indicated below:
- Warner Blu-Ray promo (DD 5.1 - 1:09)
- Orphan DTV Trailer (2:32)
- Alien Raiders DTV Trailer (2:02)
- Trick 'R Treat DTV Trailer (2:32)
- Observe and Report Theatrical Trailer (2:31)
- Friday the 13th DVD/Blu-Ray Trailer (:31)
Both the widescreen and 4:3 reformatted versions of the film are encoded on a single side of a dual layerd disc along with the extras and promos. The disc is packaged in a standard sized "Ecobox" case with an insert including a code allowing the user to download a reduced price Windows Media digital copy of the film. In keeping with the bad film motif, the cover image has little to do with the film itself and lots to do with suggesting other, better serial killer movies. The attempt at having "edgy" graphics makes it look like the film's title is "The Cell Squared". Pet peeve alert: The DVD has a "Features" menu that takes you to a screen where you learn that there is only one feature.
This half-baked sequel will disappoint fans of serial killer procedurals and likely infuriate fans of its nominal predecessor. Its made-for-cable production values and cliché-ridden script make it of little value for any viewer who is not fond of looking for Ed Wood-style production gaffes. It is presented on DVD with technically competent audio and video quality which would be better news if the film's production design were not so garishly ugly. The only extra is a 30 minute largely promotional behind the scenes featurette that does not even offer an apology to the poor viewers who have just watched the film.