The Next Three Days is kind of a throwback to the classic action movies Hollywood put out in the mid-nineties - the 'one man versus the world' era of thrillers, in which lantern-jawed heroes like Harrison Ford or Mel Gibson fight to save their family against improbable odds and injustice. At one point, the lead character - a stoic, possibly stubbled everyman forced into action against his will - is likely to growl "Give me back my wife" or something, before killing eight thousand terrorists in the name of love. Brilliant.
There are no terrorists in The Next Three Days, only terrorists of justice
. Russell Crowe plays the aforementioned family man who watches dumbstruck as his wife, played by Elizabeth Banks, is dragged from their home as their young son watches, then banged up for moider in the foist. Understandably narked that the penal system insists on sticking to stupid little rules like 'circumstantial evidence', Crowe plans to bust his wife out of chokey - do people still call it chokey? - and escape with a minimum of one car chase.
This is a Paul Haggis movie, which means it's pretty slick, if a little on-the-nose when it comes to the MAJOR ISSUES in the movie. It also means it's dreadfully po-faced and utterly without humour. There are at least three moments in The Next Three Days which made me burst out laughing, but I'm still not sure if they were intentional - the tone is so fuzzy, it's a hard film to get a handle on.
Russell Crowe is the kind of talismanic actor who can do this sort of role in his sleep, which is fitting, because he sleepwalks through the film. He deploys two looks throughout - pained and determined - both of which could easily be confused with constipation. His turmoil feels a little over-egged, mainly because whenever we visit wifey Banks in jail, she's remarkably chirpy - even though she's supposed to be suicidal and at the end of her tether. My advice to Russell: ditch the possible convict wife and go with option B, Olivia Wilde's hot single mother. She's not doing anything important anyway.
Haggis has a habit of over-icing the cake when it comes to showing not telling. The most obvious plot twist is dispensed with fairly early on and gives the movie an interesting air of ambiguity, which serves it well... until a last reel sequence basically tells you exactly what happened. It's not even a flashback, because no one in the scene even saw the event in question. It's just lazy writing - take it out and you'd have a better movie.
For all the Prison Break-esque planning and meticulous research Crowe undertakes (including a visit to SUPER SPECIAL GUEST LIAM NEESON), the actual jailbreak is disappointing and basically consists of him hacking the government with an iPhone then breaking into a medical van with a tennis ball. There's a tense bit in a prison corridor with a key, a ridiculous bit in a crack den that's from another movie entirely, a trip to the zoo that's not half as exciting as it could have been ("I'm commandeering this giraffe," Crowe doesn't say) and the rest is a bit run of the mill. Crowe keeps on checking his watch when looking to make his escape, and so will you.
Incidentally, the three laugh-out loud moments - otherwise known as the best bits - were as follows:
1. A man comes to Russell Crowe's door and starts talking to him in a funny accent. A few seconds later, he reveals he's actually deaf. Should we have laughed? Whoops, too late.
2. Russell Crowe is talking to Olivia Wilde's yummy mummy in the park and gently broaches the subject of his wife's imprisonment. "My wife's in jail," he says, then, without a beat, "She's innocent, she didn't murder that woman." Smooth move, Russ.
3. The police are trying to identify the owner of Russell Crowe's car and start narrowing down the list by checking felons who own the same model. One nameless cop tasked with eliminating the criminals enters the room excitedly and announces: "The rapist was in a wheelchair!" I never, ever thought I'd laugh at the words, "The rapist was in a wheelchair".