Just like 28 Days Later, Cell is a zombie movie without being a zombie movie. In the former, a fast-moving plague devastates the Earth, turning the afflicted into fast moving rage-monsters that might as well be zombies. In the latter, a mysterious cellphone signal scrambles the brains of users, turning them at first into fast moving rage-monsters before then turning them into some kind of braindead hivemind somethings that just kind of walk around in groups. I guess.
Cell is based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King, with a screenplay by King and Adam Alleca (the remake of The Last House On The Left), and stars John Cusack, whose best days as an actor are long gone, and Samuel Jackson, who’s still at the top of his game, yet decides to make this? I’ll be honest, King has been past his prime for me since the very late 80s, and the times when I’ve attempted to read his work since then are few and far between. I actually did purchase Cell when it was released in 2006 (wow, 10 years ago?!) on the strength of an excerpt printed in Entertainment Weekly, but I gave up after three attempts to get past the first couple of chapters. Supposedly, Eli Roth (Hostel, The Green Inferno) was attached at one point, but it ended up being directed by Paranormal Activity 2’s Kip Williams instead. Under Roth, I could see a much bigger budget and some kind of creative vision, but the version that eventually got made is a real mess. In the screenplay that was filmed, the characters express almost no human reaction to the events in the first act, they don’t have any “HOLY SHIT, WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?!” moments, they simply pay lazy lip service to thoughts of terrorism being responsible and quickly move on. Seriously? In a cheap movie, at least let your actors act by giving them something interesting to say. Even worse, around the half hour mark, Stacy Keach shows up to draw some pretty specific conclusions based on what little he knows about the phenomenon. This is absolutely amateur-screenplay writing at its worst. I’d be amazed if this script, written as is, would place on ANY screenplay competition, never mind something like the Nichol.
Cell is a disaster on just about every level. I got angry a few weeks ago watching Harbinger Down but that was offensive for a whole other reason. Cell is an almost indescribably awful movie – it’s so bad that I found it embarrassing to watch in places. I was put off from the get go by the obnoxious titles: giant slabs of black that obscure whole sections of the screen and use an anonymous, sans-serif font; they don’t even try to do anything creative here, which is borderline High School Film Club project. As far as King has fallen for me, I’m still amazed that he had anything to do with this. Everything about this movie feels and looks cheap, like some-guy-scraped-together-$25K-and-shot-over-a-week-with-buddies cheap, especially given that the screen story diverges greatly from the second half of the book (at least from what I read on Wikipedia, where it seems to be, essentially, a cheap rewrite of The Stand). It takes a distinctly unambitious and creatively inept turn, and I found myself wondering if his co-screenwriting credit is a WGA compromise credit, because surely this could not have been written by the guy who complained about Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining.
I also scratched my head at Jackson’s inclusion in this – a number of years ago, I joked that Sam Jackson never met a movie he didn’t like, because it seems like he’s in three movies a year – and some of questionable quality. I don’t know what criteria he uses to pick projects, because it’s absolutely mystifying to see him in this just months after he appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight. It’s the kind of movie that an actor down on his luck would pick because it’s at least a step up from a SyFy original. Not much, though. There’s nothing that he brings to this movie at all; it’s a restrained, uninteresting paycheque performance, and I have to believe that the majority of the budget was used to hire him.
In some respects, it reminded me a little of Pontypool (or at least, what happens outside the studio) but that movie had a sense of atmosphere about it that reminded me a lot of early David Cronenberg. Cell generated no such inspiring thoughts. It’s simply an ineptly written and directed throwaway piece of “entertainment” that takes everyone down with it, and the end, which is a writer’s big chance to make amends, is such an incomprehensible, incoherent display of talentless hackwork that I found it hard to believe Williams would film it as is.
Cell is so bad that if I could rate it lower than a zero, I would. Unfortunately, I’ll have to settle with
© Andrew Hope, 2016
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