Thursday, July 07, 2016

I Can't Hear You Now

There's always that moment in time-travel movies where the space-time continuum is off by just a hair - just a millisecond of fritz and freakout, but you know something's not right. Kind of like a glitch in The Matrix, know what I mean? No The Matrix isn't a time-travel movie, but neither is Cell, and yet here I am talking about time-travel glitches anyway... I'll give you that it's a strained analogy, but my point is you have this sense of What's Right, and then there's What's Wrong But Just Barely Wrong - that uncanny sensation of Déjà vu & Doppelgangers; a translucent mask over a face that's actually not there.

And even though it's a horror film, based on a book by Stephen King no less, it's not even that Cell mines the uncanny so prodigiously that's got me pawing at the frayed edges of what's real and unreal - it's just that the movie itself is so close to being, to Truly Being, but that millisecond and hair's breadth is making all the difference and the house of cards is tum-tum-tumbling down. Splat.

It feels like they had one day too few too shoot it, one dollar too little, one hot cappuccino two degrees too cold delivered to John Cusack's trailer just a minute too late to put him in the right mood on the first day of shooting - something is off, and I can't quite get my pointer finger upon it but dimensionally-speaking maybe it's best I don't try. Who knows where I'll end?

Part of it's probably that the book should've been adapted ten years ago, and just feels dated now. The dangers of techno-thrillers. (All Hail Johnny Mnemonic Syndrome.) But then in 2006 when the novel came out even then a story about cell-phones turning people into zombies felt old-hat, like that Simpsons headline "Old Man Yells At Cloud." I mean I think King did some good stuff in the book (the flocking gets me) but it never really escaped that sensation.

And the movie gathered together a good cast - I ain't Cusack's biggest fan but he can be perfectly agreeable, and you add on Samuel L. Jackson and Isabelle Fuhrman and we should be going somewhere. Somewhere. Somewhere? There are scenes that almost work - the opening, the inciting incident, is almost expansive enough... but then you get the feeling that characters are running through the same set over and over again, too. Like we're trapped in one room while everybody's saying we should see that the whole world's on fire.

This is clearly a function of budget, and maybe that's all it is. The movie strains past its parameters, unraveling its own borders as it ambles along - it's too big or too bonkers for its own britches. It ends up in knee-deep in palookaville missing a laugh-track, but it has good intentions so you don't want to really fill the laughs in for it. You're neither there nor there. Maybe the mask slipped; maybe the cat walked past two times too many. Whatever it is, it ain't this and this ain't it.

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