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Mismatch of leads kills the thrills in 'The Next Three Days'

The Next Three Days

Rated PG-13 (violence, drug material, language, sexuality, thematic elements); 122 minutes.

In wide release.

Posted 10:59am on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010

The main dynamic you have to accept in The Next Three Days -- the one that the entire story, all the drama, all the risk hinge upon -- is that Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks actually belong together.

Always strong individually, they make no sense as a couple. And that's a problem, since it undermines our ability to become emotionally immersed in the danger in which they find themselves.

As a result, Paul Haggis' thriller, based on the 2008 French film Anything for Her, ends up feeling even more implausible than it might have.

The latest movie from the Oscar-winning Crash director finds Banks' Lara Brennan being convicted of killing her boss in a Pittsburgh parking garage. Lara insists that she didn't commit the crime, despite having a smudge of the victim's blood on her trench coat, and Haggis' script provides flashback glimpses of that night's events, keeping her guilt a mystery until the end.

Once all of Lara's appeals have run out and she's on the verge of being transferred to a state penitentiary, her husband, John, hatches a scheme to break her out. John, mind you, is a mild-mannered community-college professor who already has his hands full caring for the couple's 6-year-old son, Luke (Ty Simpkins), alone.

One would think that John might be dissuaded. But despite Crowe's indisputable ability to transform himself and dig deep for every character he plays, we never get a sense of whether crafting this plot weighs on John's conscience. Banks, meanwhile, is believably hardened by her time behind bars.

But the most intriguing figure of all is Liam Neeson as a grizzled ex-con who has literally written the book on prison breaks. The scene in which John tries to seek out his advice, without giving away his intention, briefly brings The Next Three Days to life.

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