Rated PG-13 for violence, drug material, language, some sexuality and thematic elements, 122 minutes
Looking for nonstop action? Not in the uneven “Next Three Days”
You’d think that with Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe and Oscar-winning “Crash” writer Paul Haggis along with a slick marketing campaign, that the new thriller “The Next Three Days” would be a sure-fire action-adventure hit. Well, at least partly so. This uneven, implausible and by-the-numbers movie is mostly heavy-handed melodrama with a sprinkle of action on top, with the action-adventure not figuring in until very late into the film; with that said it will be a disappointment for those expecting nonstop action from start to finish.
Crowe is John Brennan, a Pittsburgh community college English teacher whose wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) is accused and later convicted of a murder of one her professional colleagues. Becoming frustrated with the legal appeal system and convinced of her innocence, John devises a plan to break her free, in spite of the fact he lacks the skills to execute a flawless plan.
“The Next Three Days” is more bleak, downbeat drama than rousing action-adventure, requiring the audience to sit through the depressing story for the film’s best sequence, when Crowe’s character finally goes through with his plan. A remake of a 2007 French Film “Pour Elle,” “The Next Three Days” is most troubling in buying into these uneven characters; it spends far much too much time in its initial chapters detailing what a normal schlub Crowe’s character is and his lack of skill and knowledge. Sure, it’s a departure for the “Gladiator” actor, but it misses a beat or two in showing a credible transformation he makes to smoothly execute such a plan in a seemingly short amount of time, stretching the story’s believability.
“The Next Three Days” is also flawed by Haggis creaky, heavy-handed direction and adaptation; he spends little time developing Banks’ character, and her inexplicable, baffling actions in the final act hurt the film (doesn’t help that Banks is also miscast here). The film also considerably underuses some terrific character actors, especially Brian Dennehy as John’s elderly father, who remains dialogue-free until late in the film, and lovely British actress Olivia Wilde, stuck in a one-note role as the parent of a child he befriends, who should’ve traded roles with Banks (look for Wilde in the upcoming “Tron” sequel). Oh, and blink and you’ll miss Liam Neeson’s very brief cameo as an expert in the field of…breaking out of jail.
The film’s best sequence is its final one, an extended cat-and-mouse chase scene through the streets of Pittsburgh, when Crowe and Banks (and the movie itself) finally hit the ground running. Until then, there’s very little energy in the otherwise downbeat drama with an unnecessary epilogue that attempts to put a pat ending for what the audience likely knows anyway. An open-ended ending leaving the audience to decide for themselves would’ve been more effective.
“The Next Three Days” isn’t a terrible film by any means. Just an uneven, drab one with a bait-and-switch marketing campaign that wants you to believe it’s a breathless, nonstop action film (far from it). And given the A-list cast and story, it could’ve worked far, far better. One of the fall movie season’s first big disappointments.