With most movie thrillers, implausibility comes with the territory. “The Next Three Days” takes that territory into uncharted terrain. Suspension of disbelief rapidly gives way to “Oh, puhleeze.”
Russell Crowe, in one of his wily, sodden renditions, plays John Brennan, a Pittsburgh literature professor whose wife, Lara (Elizabeth Banks), shortly after the film’s halcyon opening, is imprisoned for supposedly killing her boss. With a young son to take care of, John spends the next three years trying to prove Lara’s innocence only to realize that the chances of reopening her case are nil. So John does what any good husband would do: He decides to spring her from prison.
This isn’t a bad premise for a thriller, and it even has a psychological angle that’s potentially intriguing – in trying to rescue his wife, John transforms himself into the sort of cold-blooded avenger she could never love. (The source material is a 2008 cult French thriller, “Anything For Her,” that ran a full half hour less than this film’s unnecessarily long 133 minutes.)
Writer-director Paul Haggis (“Crash”) stumbles early on. The flashbacks replaying the boss’s murder are so ineptly staged that it’s difficult to know if we are meant to be confused – or is it Haggis who’s confused? The biggest problem is John’s unconvincing transformation into a kind of rumply ninja. Early on he gives a lecture to his students on “Don Quixote,” and I guess this is meant to explain his quixotic quest to save Lara.
But there’s a big difference between fantasy and reality, even if you’re a college professor. (Couldn’t Haggis at least have made him an ex-Navy SEAL with a hankering for the classics?) According to this film’s logic, you are what you teach. I suppose we should be glad John wasn’t lecturing on “Crime and Punishment.”
John picks up his jail-break skills mainly through the Internet. (Don’t try this at home.) He also has a quick confab with an ex-con (a dour Liam Neeson), who warns him that the hard part isn’t the escape but the aftermath, when the hunt is on.
The hunt should have come a lot sooner. Until the time when John’s plan goes into hyperdrive, “The Next Three Days” is all buildup. In its final half-hour, all the stops are pulled. The movie is still wildly implausible but at least it’s hurtling forward. The only thing missing from the proceedings is a windmill for John to tilt at. Or maybe I missed it. Grade: B- (Rated PG-13 for violence, drug material, language, some sexuality, and thematic elements.)
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