Astounded to see his vaguely hot-tempered wife imprisoned for a murder she swears she didn’t commit, a vaguely even-tempered professor concludes that he must try to break her out. His motive for this dubious conclusion, in writer-director Paul Haggis’ estimation, seems simply to be that he’s in a thriller about a guy trying to break his wife out of prison.
Hey, it could happen; it did happen in the recent French film “Anything for Her,” which in French stopped short of “anything” and just was called “Pour Elle,” and which is the source for this dully overdetermined remake.
The professor is played by Russell Crowe, and his wife is played by Elizabeth Banks. He has cleverness and tenacity; she has a sweet face that makes it easy to believe she doesn’t deserve her plight. If only that were enough.
Haggis, the Oscar-laden ex-Scientologist who wrote and directed “Crash” and “In the Valley of Elah,” wrote “Million Dollar Baby” and Clint Eastwood’s two Iwo Jima movies, and co-wrote two recent James Bond movies, has a penchant for agitators persevering through desperate situations. He also has a bent toward bloat, and at times his title “The Next Three Days” seems like a disclaimer about how much time this movie actually will take to get where it’s going.
Maybe that’s why plausibility becomes a problem. We have time to consider how absurd it all is, to think: Whoa, buddy, don’t you think the whole busting her out thing might be a little extreme? Couldn’t you put yourself through law school and take up the fight from the inside, as Hilary Swank did for Sam Rockwell in “Conviction”? Or maybe send in some hottie to seduce and blackmail the parole officer, as Edward Norton did to Robert De Niro with Milla Jovovich in “Stone”? Of course, those examples proved underwhelming, thriller-wise, but we’re just saying maybe there are other options.
Here, the stakes are high but generic, with any moral and legal implications served up merely as story stuffing. After brief, potent tutelage from Liam Neeson as an accomplished prison escapee, plus some YouTube research and a few schooling transactions with seedy underworld thugs, Crowe’s alleged everyman is, finally, ready for action.
But rooting for our protagonist out of reflex isn’t the same as caring about him. It’s hard to know what to make of his automatic desperation. He says he’s useless without her, but then seems keenly organized and purposeful when planning his grand caper on her behalf. Is it actually that he’s useless without the challenge of rescuing her? That might be interesting — but apparently not to Haggis.
As the time wears on, she too becomes desperate, palpably so. Twice she tries to kill herself — once in a manner that also endangers the life of her husband. So, uh, will there be mental health care, for both of them, in their getaway place?