ZERO STARS/**** Image B Sound B Extras D
starring Tessie Santiago, Chris Bruno, Frank Whaley
screenplay by Lawrence Silverstein & Alex Barder and Erik Klein and Rob Rinow
directed by Tim Iacofano
by Walter Chaw Blaringly shot on digital video so that the whole of this shitstorm looks like someone's bat mitzvah, The Cell 2's only reason for existing appears to be to clarify just how underestimated is Tarsem's original The Cell. This dtv trainwreck substitutes Jennifer Lopez with another Latina, Tessie Santiago, seemingly because the producers thought it the best way to soften the blow of the realization that this is an otherwise-unfilmable script retrofitted to launch a franchise. Santiago, a kind of Eva Longoria/Sandra Bullock hybrid, is Maya, the requisite "seer" in another serial-killer intrigue full to bursting with macho exchanges between the men and hysterical exchanges between Maya and anyone else. Tortured by not having thwarted Jigsaw-like murderer The Cusp three years prior, she's brought back on the case not merely because she's a psychic or something, but also because she was The Cusp's only fish that got away, thus giving her unique, erm, insight? Who knows? The Cusp's MO, see, is to repeatedly kill and revive his victims, which actually explains both Frank Whaley's appearance in this thing and what happens to his career by being in it. Irony. They should've called it "The Cell 2: Poor Frank Whaley."
Maya, Ripley-like, emerges to exact vengeance on a killer only she understands while a lot of burley boys loiter in the margins, underestimating her fiery pluck. Long conversations revolving around whether or not she's a fake are interrupted by "vision" sequences in which we're suddenly transported into Video Toaster-esque "hologram" corridors through which Maya stumbles around like a late-blooming tranny new to heels. Frankly, I liked it better the first time when it was the video for a-ha's "Take On Me." Expect no surprise as to the killer's identity, no excitement in a car chase scene that seems like it was shot at 20MPH on a closed course, and no revulsion at the cut-rate gore effects. Sometime "24" director Tim Iacofano reveals himself to be in deep, deep water here. I'm not usually one to point out continuity errors, for instance, but one thirty-second sequence sees our intrepid heroes running from blizzard to overcast to sunshine to snow again; you really do wonder what was going on in anyone's head at any given moment. The end, with Maya and the po-po battling the baddie in separate "realities," has to be the stupidest thing I've seen in any medium this year--so it has that going for it, I guess.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
The Cell 2 emerges on Blu-ray from New Line in an entirely useless 1.78:1. 1080p presentation that looks every inch the badly-ported modern television series shot on HiDef it is. I can't blame the transfer, I suppose, but the encode is dubious, as quick movements possess a jittery quality that made me, more than once, want to get up to check my router. I was fascinated a couple of years ago when a colleague of mine told me that one of the classes he was going to take at NYU film school was about how to create media for new devices with tiny screens--and with a Digital Copy of the film available on a second disc inside the keepcase, now's your chance to see the fruits of that labour. In short, I suspect The Cell 2 was never meant to be up there on my plasma, where all its obvious shortcomings are as clear as that zit on your nose. The accompanying 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio underutilizes the discrete soundstage, but it's clear as a bell.
The standard B-roll baloney, a making-of doc (30 mins.) begins with this hilarious thing where Santiago talks about how The Cusp's process ends with him ripping the hearts out of his female victims, edited fast against Iacofano saying that of course Maya has survived The Cusp's attentions. It is to laugh. In the doc, it's revealed that the writers are also the producers, and they try to absolve themselves by lamenting the challenge of making a big, steaming pile on a shoestring when the piece should have focused on how hard it is to make anything with a terrible screenplay, terrible director, and terrible actors worth watching. Tight schedule, tight budget, blah blah blah; honestly, I've seen movies many hundreds of degrees better than this on tighter budgets and tighter schedules. I mean, how much did Val Lewton have to work with? Budd Boetticher? The Blair Witch guys? Iacofano demonstrates himself to be a first-degree, rare douchebag, and spending half-an-hour listening to these morons tell me what constitutes a great movie has shortened my lifespan and lowered my IQ. Parting shot: Santiago and Bruno declare Iacofano an actor's director--in other words, they believe that for as bad as they are in this film, they would've been worse with someone else at the helm. As with the rest of their revelations, I believe they're mistaken on this point.Originally published: November 3, 2009.