Viking Night: The Cell
By Bruce Hall
December 1, 2016
If I were pitching a crime thriller, and my cast included Jennifer Lopez, Vincent D'Onofrio, Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Vince Vaughn, the first thing I would expect to hear is:
“Is there dancing? Does someone fall headfirst into an outhouse? Why are J-Lo and that guy from Wedding Crashers in this?”
That's what makes it fun to watch actors in films made when their careers were on wildly different trajectories than they are today. Jennifer Lopez is an enormously successful entertainer, best known for her singing and dancing. But she's also a credible actress, having scored an early breakout hit (Selena) and held her own opposite some very big names (Edward James Olmos, Sean Penn... Scott Bakula…). I'm pretty certain Vince Vaughn hasn't missed any house payments recently, but...let's just say 2005 was a long time ago.
Meanwhile, Jean-Baptiste and D'Onofrio remain names that suggest a certain level of quality. For me, D'Onofrio was the difference between “How cute, they're doing a show about Daredevil” and “Holy shit - I HAVE to see that.” But I wouldn't sleep on Lopez - or Vaughn. She's legitimately multitalented, and while his distinctive delivery will probably continue to limit him to comedic roles, I do hear talk of a Dodgeball sequel, so there's always that. But back in 2000, their paths crossed, and the result was a pretty good, pretty underrated movie called The Cell.
It's a pretty straightforward setup. Catherine Deane (Lopez) is a psychologist working on an experimental treatment for coma patients. It involves connecting doctor and patient via slick looking bio-electric body suits that look like something that would happen if David Cronenberg directed a sequel to Tron. Her current work involves trying to revive a billionaire's young son, but there's been no success. Catherine invests herself deeply in her work, and has a reputation for developing strong emotional and intellectual connections with people - whether they're her patients or not.
Peter Novak (Vaughn) is an FBI agent who specializes in tracking down serial killers. His current case involves a man named Stargher (D'Onofrio), who specializes in kidnapping and murdering young women. Stargher is a sickeningly violent man who suffers from a rare form of schizophrenia. His mind is home to a cornucopia of deranged horrors, and if there were a machine that allowed you to go inside his head and watch the carnival, you'd probably never stop screaming. So, if such a machine existed, you would totally not want to use it on this man.
Although if it came with wicked bio-electric bodysuits, I could be tempted to give it a spin.
Lucky for me, that's Catherine's job. Spoiler alert - Novak gets his man, and actually closes the net on Stargher by the end of the first act. Unfortunately, the ticking time bomb that was the killer's brain disease goes off, rendering him a vegetable. Only, doctors say his mind is still active - sort of - somewhere inside this homicidal husk of a man. That's where Catherine and her team come in. Oh, did I mention that Stargher's preferred murder method is to slowly drown his victims inside a Bond villianesque shark tank contraption? In fact, there's a hard metal basin, bowl and bed in there. One might call it a “cell” …of sorts. In fact, it's quite possible this is where the title of the movie comes from.