Who’s In It: Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson, Kevin Corrigan, Jason Beghe, Ty Simpkins, Olivia Wilde, Aisha Hinds, Daniel Stern, Brian Dennehy, Helen Carey, Lennie James
The Basics: Russell Crowe is a mild-mannered English professor whose wife (Elizabeth Banks) is in prison for murder, and the separation is taking its toll on the couple and their young son (Ty Simpkins). Because you can’t always pull a Hilary Swank in Conviction and spend your life getting a law degree to prove a loved one innocent, Russell does the next most reasonable thing: He takes to the Internet to learn how to break his woman out of prison! But Russell isn’t some super-lethal spy daddy; he’s a bookish nerd and foolish dreamer like his literary hero Don Quixote, which is why he’ll keep enduring setback after setback to get his family back together even as he finds himself beaten, robbed, broke, and increasingly desperate. In a way, this and 127 Hours make the perfect Thanksgiving-themed double feature about people who go to great lengths just to reunite with the ones they love.
What’s The Deal: Forget the filmmakers involved and the Oscar season timing – The Next Three Days is a popcorn thriller through and through. Unfortunately, it’s also painfully boring. That said, it is refreshing to see Russell Crowe’s everyman fail at the extraordinary spy-level hijinks he’s trying to teach himself; his desperation is touching, his failure realistic, a cinematic expression of domesticized male performance anxiety. Still, the film only perks up when writer-director Paul Haggis throws realism out the window and starts letting Crowe do insane things, like stalking drug dealers in his Prius and shooting up meth labs in search of cash. Only in the last 30 minutes does The Next Three Days achieve any sense of momentum, by which time you’re either with it or you’re not. Stick with it until Banks's head comes inches from a speeding semi as she leans out of a car that’s doing donuts on a freeway and you’ll at least know you’re in the home stretch.
Prison-Breaking, According To The Next Three Days: It’s super complicated and dangerous, but with the right attitude -- and a couple thousand dollars, a few tennis balls, and YouTube -- any old nerd can do it! You’re also going to need maps of the city, an escape route, a reliable watch, a Steelers jacket, cash, a gun and fake passports. Don’t forget to leave behind just enough clues for the cops to almost-catch you 10 times before you make your escape. Cops love that.
Who Almost Ruins The Movie (With His Awesomeness): Liam Neeson, who makes his one-scene cameo as an ex-con jailbreak expert early on. After his five or so captivating minutes, Neeson’s work is done – but to the film’s disadvantage, he only makes Russell Crowe look even more boring and ineffective by comparison. Long after Neeson’s exited the screen you’ll still be thinking about how much more badass the movie would have been if it starred him instead of Crowe and was called Taken 2.
Based On: The 2008 French thriller Anything for Her (Pour Elle), starring Vincent Lindon and Diane Kruger. But it’s more fun to imagine that Paul Haggis found subconscious inspiration in his own public break from the Church of Scientology last year. Also see: That one episode from Season 3 of ABC's Castle about a male nurse who tries to break his girlfriend out of jail. Now that was suspenseful storytelling.