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The Next Three Days

Written and Directed by Paul Haggis

A lot of time has passed since Paul Haggis was writing episodes of “Diff’rent Strokes” and “Who’s the Boss” – or slightly weightier fare in “L.A. Law.” He’s unlikely to be remembered as a co-creator of “Walker, Texas Ranger” since he hit the big time in 2004 as writer/director/co-producer of the Academy Award winning “Crash” (I blame Roger Ebert, who seemed to be on a crusade for “Crash” that year). Not that “Crash” seemed that much better than the earlier TV shows, as a trite film that seemed like an after-school special on race relations (and reminiscent of 1991’s “Grand Canyon”) with such revelatory details as the bigoted woman whose perspective changes when her Hispanic maid helps her up after she falls.

Since then he has had better and varied projects, including the screenplays for “Flags of Our Fathers,” the new Bond movies, and “In the Valley of Elah” – which was good but suffered from the general unpopularity of depressing Iraq War movies (the left doesn’t need to be told how bad it was and the right doesn’t want to hear it).  But “The Next Three Days” stands on its own merits as a well-crafted and self-contained drama and prison break caper.  

In it, Russell Crowe plays the community college lecturer husband of a woman imprisoned for murder. As her appeals options run out, he determines that their only chance of being a family again, with their young son, is to spring her from prison. Except that he’s a completely straight-laced kind of guy, who naturally knows nothing whatsoever about jail breaks or law-breaking in general.

There’s a genuineness to the clueless and reluctant hero here. He isn’t conveniently written to be an ex-CIA agent or retired cop – he’s just a regular guy, which brings the “what would you do in the same situation?” kinds of questions a little closer to home.  He isn’t sure himself what he is and isn’t capable of. Crowe is good in the role, and it’s one that isn’t at all glamorous (more “The Insider” or “State of Play” than “Robin Hood” or “Gladiator”).  There’s also a solid and noteworthy performance from Brian Dennehy as his father, in a role that seems at first to be quite forgettable but which generates perhaps the strongest moment in the movie.

I enjoyed “The Next Three Days” and would probably only enjoy it more if it came in a boxed set with “Crash” – so I could watch the former and burn the latter.

Faster

Directed by George Tillman Jr.

Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson seems like a perfect candidate for one of those films about a guy who never uses a gun and just likes to hit people, old-school style. He starts off this film as a guy in prison, in constant motion, keeping his physique after 10 years of incarceration. So it comes as a bit of a surprise when he proves to be somebody who’s quick to use a gun and rarely ever actually hits anybody at all. After all, somebody half his size (like me) could do that and they’d save money on fabric and, presumably, craft services. When The Rock and I could play the same role, it seems like his obvious talents are being wasted.

His character has basically waited those 10 years, eagerly anticipating the opportunity to get back at everybody involved in a bank-heist-related double-cross that resulted in his brother’s death. There’s not a whole lot more to the plot than that and, despite its simplicity, it still manages to avoid making too much sense. For example, he’s on a two-state killing spree and there only seem to be two cops from Bakersfield paying any attention. Plus, strolling into a room and shooting a guy in the head at first sight isn’t particularly conducive to finding out more about past events, such as asking who arranged the double-cross.

Throw in cop nearing retirement (Billy Bob Thornton) and an assassin who is apparently an ex-whizz kid entrepreneur who seems to kill just to be good at something again (after all, he’s defeated yoga – yes, really), and you have all the makings of a slightly weird film that never quite seems to achieve whatever it was shooting for. It’s as if somebody thought they might get the tiniest “In Bruges” or “Way of the Gun” vibe, but managed instead to get a vaguely serviceable romp backwards and forwards across the Mojave with just enough laughs and gore to punctuate the monotony. It feels like The Rock in a role more suited to Jason Statham.

It’s not a horrible movie – it’s amusing enough to pass the time – but it isn’t especially satisfying either and it seems to leave a plot hole at the end (and not one of those “wait for the sequel” holes either). But if you like movies with fast cars, loud guns, and not too much thought required – you might enjoy it.


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