Romantic-actioner is limp remake.
The Next Three Days is an oddly subdued tale about a few very excitable people thrown into an improbably extreme set of situations. While the characters’ generally agitated state is not greatly contagious, it does serve to create enough low-grade tension to sustain a mildly suspenseful couple of hours.
Russell Crowe plays a community-college lit professor who goes ballistic when his wife (perky Elizabeth Banks pretending to be high-strung) gets thrown in prison on a murder case to which she is only circumstantially connected. Crowe is not very convincing as a literary type, but going ballistic has become an indelible part of his movie persona, and that’s transparently crucial to this overly contrived attempt at making a serious-minded thriller.
Paul Haggis, who wrote and directed the Oscar-winning Crash a few years back, has charge of writing and direction here too, but in this case he’s drawing on an undistinguished French film called Pour Elle for what looks mostly like a wholly unnecessary remake.
The not very credible series of dramatic predicaments for Crowe and Banks are played deadly straight. Haggis’ direction seems oblivious to the preposterousness of it all and indifferent to the signs of psychological imbalance in his characters.
There’s an elaborately planned jailbreak, some frantic chase scenes, a fast-paced police procedural sequence, and a ridiculous bit of stunting on a freeway. But The Next Three Days approximates real dramatic interest only in the moments when its characters and story run up against their own internal contradictions.
Crowe seems perfectly capable of playing a slightly delusional man of action, but even with an unsubtle reference to Don Quixote in the hero’s dialogue, Haggis’ film insists on arriving at a generically bland set of resolutions. Banks’ character, feisty and fractious at first, is an incomprehensible mess by the end.
Liam Neeson and Brian Dennehy have gruff bits as the hero’s significant elders. Olivia Wilde is nicely paradoxical as a neighboring single mother, and so is Daniel Stern in a rare dramatic role (the family’s lawyer).