Trashy and ridiculous, "The Next Three Days" holds one's attention in a "so-misguided-it's-halfway-entertaining" sort of way. For writer-director Paul Haggis, who previously helmed 2005's bold racial drama "Crash
" and 2007's thought-provoking elegy on war "In the Valley of Elah
," this is an uncommonly major step down. It's hard to tell what, exactly, the filmmaker was thinkingand for that matter, where his head was atwhen he penned the screenplay. Was he vacationing on another planet and thought he'd model his characters on the extraterrestrial beings he met there? Even if Haggis never stepped foot off planet earth, what is certain is his film's alienation from the real world. Headlined by Russell Crowe (2010's "Robin Hood
"), too good for the project, and being released in the thicket of the competitive holiday movie season, if studio Lionsgate expects they might have another Oscar contender on their hands, they're dreaming.
When wife Laura (Elizabeth Banks) is arrested and convicted of the brutal parking garage murder of her boss, school teacher John Brennan's (Russell Crowe) life and that of his family are suddenly turned upside down. Laura claims that she ran into somebody in the garage immediately after the crime and she heard a button pop off her jacketproof that someone else was there and why blood is found on her clothingbut no button is found and her story cannot be corroborated. John, however, knows Laura couldn't have possibly been the killer. Not ready to see his wife spend the rest of her life behind bars and his six-year-old son Luke (Ty Simpkins) grow up without a mother, John becomes obsessed with finding a way of breaking Laura out of jail. Meeting up with crime author and ex-convict Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson), who has written extensively on the process of escaping imprisonment, John sees no other choice but to risk his own lifeand plenty of others along the wayin an elaborate scheme to set his wife free.
A remake of the 2008 French film "Pour elle" (still unreleased stateside), "The Next Three Days" is an ill-formed, stupidly plotted, morally unclean thriller. Not taking into account its choppy editing early onthe narrative bypasses presumably important events like Laura's trial and John's life in the immediate aftermath of his spouse's arrestthe film would be alarmingly similar to the recent "Conviction
" had that picture's true-life protagonist Betty Anne Waters gone bat-shit crazy and tried to pop her wrongly convicted brother out of the clink. Innocent people get sent to jail more often than the justice system would like to admit, and it's as unfair as it is outrageous. Still, it does not excuse John Brennan's behavior. Set up as a rather even-keeled, honest, working-class guy, his sense is quickly overtaken by a selfishness that makes his actions unforgivable. He commits theft, fraud, arson, break-and-entering, arguable child abandonment, and murder, and that's all before he makes his first move in snatching Laura out of police custody. Director Paul Haggis negligently treats all of this with a frivolous hand that never bothers to question how harmful John's actions are; in doing what he believes to be right, he himself commits countless crimes while the audience is supposed to turn a blind eye simply because he is the "hero" of the story. It doesn't work that way, and Haggis should have been smart enough to know that.
Awkward in a way where few of its characters or plot threads organically connect but an awful lot of crazy stuff happens, the picture works only as a curiosity of how such a high-profile movie filled with A-list actors and craftsmen can be just as junky and ludicrous as any old low-rent B-movie. Viewer interest escalates and tension admittedly does rise even as one cannot believe a frame of what he or she is watching. The high-stakes third act is tautly shot, but also beyond silly. Writer-director Haggis relies on contrivances and coincidences to push his characters from a hospital to a car chase to a suicide attempt to an auto accident close-call to an airport and so on, the authorities narrowly missing John and Laura time and again as they make a dash toward making it out of the country. Indeed, it all gets to the point where it stops feeling like a dramatic feature and reminds more of a far-fetched slapstick comedy.
Too goofy to take seriously yet too ethically corrupt to overlook its wrongheadedness, "The Next Three Days"a trivial title that plays no pertinent role in the proceedingsis a bomb in no uncertain terms. The cast act like they think they're making something with nobility, which makes the strong turns from Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks (2009's "The Uninvited
"), as John and Laura Brennan, all the more fruitless. With just a one-scene cameo, Liam Neeson (2009's "Taken
") gets out while the getting is good as wall-hopping writer Damon Pennington. Will Laura and John successfully escape and live happily ever after? Will the dimwitted police find the evidence Laura insisted they look for all along near the years-old crime scene? Will John not spend a moment's time regretting the lives he has either affected or taken in his pursuit of saving another? "The Next Three Days" is careless, idiotic, and sort of watchable because of its head-scratching deficiencies.