Main Cast: John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson

Director: Tod Williams

All systems are go for next week’s premiere of my new musical spectacular: Event Horizon, a new live musical. I couldn’t be happier with the rehearsal process. We’ve converted the dining room of Condo Maine, high atop the Nakatomi Tower, into our spaceship set with a number of dolly tracks cunningly concealed in the parquet to allow for some absolutely stunning tracking shots for the big ensemble numbers. Yesenia, my maid, has had to learn exactly where to put her feet when laying the breakfast table to avoid catching a heel but we’ve only had one minor disaster with scrambled eggs and blueberry pancakes all over the command console. Fortunately, the food was similar in color and consistency to the body parts the art department had added to the equipment, so no real harm was done. A few of my friends in the Hollywood community were heard sniggering at lunch at The Polo Lounge over the project, calling it Lost Horizon, but I would like to remind everyone that the musical version of that property has become a true American classic, beloved by millions. I had my people reach out to Liv Ullmann to see if she might be interested in a cameo to make the comparison work to my advantage, but we never heard back. Perhaps the message was mistranslated in Swedish.

The cast that we have gathered are amongst the greatest of Hollywood luminaries. Frank Stallone! Jim Belushi! Don Swayze! DeeDee Pfeiffer! Hugely recognizable names one and all. Few of them had a real background in the legitimate musical theater so I’ve had the home dance studio turned into a sort of song and dance boot camp to get everyone up to snuff with Mr. Carl, my choreographer, Madame Mimi my vocal therapist and Ms. Laurie on the rehearsal piano getting everyone up on their toes and with those high notes nicely in tune. We just have the big Act I tap finale with the big reveal of the gravity drive to stage and I’m bringing in Lulu Pigg, my tap therapist, to make sure everything is of the topmost quality. We managed to solve our biggest problem, the staging of the anti-gravity ballet, with huge swaths of black velvet attached to the roof aerial and stretched over to the flag poll from which the Nakatomi company banner usually flies. We have a black painted flying trapeze rig and a series of trampolines set up in front of it so we can bounce and soar looking like we’re lost in the vast reaches of space. It’s going to be unforgettable.

Just a sip!

I barely had time to put my feet up this evening and, when I did, I decided a small cocktail and a movie were in order, so I headed into the home theater (temporarily transformed into our long distance space transport set) together with a bottle of Grey Goose that one of our grips had left unintended on the craft services table. Flipping through the choices, I landed upon the film Cell from 2016 adapted from a Stephen King novel that I never got around to reading. It struck me as being a good enough waste of a couple of hours, so I cued it up and settled back to relax and enjoy John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson, both usually entertaining actors. My expectations were low. They were met.

Cell is a variation on the zombie apocalypse trope. This time, the vast majority of the human population is reduced to slobbering killers due to a mysterious signal that comes through their cell phones and turns their brains to mush. Our hero, Clay Riddell (Cusack), is arriving at Boston International Airport as things go crazy with passengers in the terminal suddenly attacking each other and mass carnage and death happening all around, including a plane falling out of the sky and wiping out one of the buildings.

Clay, who has been separated from his wife and son, becomes determined to rescue them and escapes the mayhem to the subway where he meets a group of survivors holed up in a subway car led by Tom (Jackson), the conductor. Clay and Tom come up from underground into a combat zone of people mindlessly killing each other. They pick up Alice (Isabelle Fuhrman), Clay’s teenage neighbor and our three intrepid heroes head off on foot cross country towards Maine as Clay is determined to save his son. Like any road movie, they have a couple of stops (an elite prep school, a backwoods dive bar), meet some odd characters including Stacy Keach, while they try to figure out what’s happening and how to rescue uninfected from ‘phoners’.

Cell is undone by an unholy mess of a script. The opening sequence is promising and the launching out of our little band of survivors into the unknown gives a reasonable structure. However, we get no logical answer to the question of ‘why?’. It’s fine to not explain why something has happened in a movie of this type, or to leave it unknowable, but don’t keep throwing mumbo-jumbo about hive mind thinking and a supernatural figure known as The Raggedy Man at us without giving us some internal logic about it. The film’s third act falls completely apart as the writers (King and someone named Adam Alleca) throw out a bunch of ideas but don’t follow up on any of them. The ending itself ends up as being a cheat and unearned by what has come before. It’s not helped by Cusack and Jackson’s performances, both of whom are phoning it in and seem to have absolutely no interest in the story or their characters, giving the film no heart and the audience no one to root for. The makers must have realized that the film was a turkey as it appears to have been completed and copyrighted in 2014, but was not released until two years later and with little to no fanfare.

The one thing that works intermittently is the direction by Tod Williams, a man best known for marrying Hollywood starlets including Gretchen Mol and Famke Janssen. He has composed a number of frisson inducing shots which stay with you long after Cell ends. A group of zombies descending a hill through the winter woods. The degeneration of a passenger lounge from normalcy to mayhem. An ending shot (which when combined with an unusual soundtrack choice) gives you a glimpse of what the film might have been with a better script and smarter choices. There is so much social commentary that can be done comparing cell phone use to a loss of individual identity for the collective, but Cell isn’t the movie that can do it.

I can’t say I recommend Cell, although it’s harmless enough, and if you are a King or a Cusack or a Jackson completist, it’s worth sitting through just to get to the end.

Smashed heads. Escalator escape. Flaming football field. Gratuitous bar floozy. Graphic novel parallels. Abandoned drive in. Exploding truck.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction,

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