The trailers for director Paul Haggis' The Next Three Days make his high-profile remake of the 2008 French crime drama Anything for Her look like a tightly coiled popcorn flick designed to have audiences gnawing their fingernails down to the bone. But anyone who buys a ticket for the film expecting big thrills is bound for disappointment. Somber, serious-minded, and as slow to start as a beat-up Pinto in a Chicago winter, The Next Three Days ladles on the drama extra thick, and only serves up the crime after bombarding us with heavy-handed Don Quixote metaphors, a brooding Brian Dennehy, a scar-faced Liam Neeson, and yet another example of Kevin Corrigan's talents going to waste in an inconsequential role -- a lamentable trend that's sadly becoming a movie cliché.
John (Russell Crowe) and Lara Brennan (Elizabeth Banks) were happily married and raising a family when their lives fell apart in the blink of an eye. After the police storm their house and arrest Lara for murder, John files multiple appeals while struggling to raise their children and maintain his career. Lara's future starts to look especially grim, however, after all of their legal options dry up, and she attempts suicide. Determined to save his wife after the justice system fails her, John seeks the advice of ex-convict Damon Pennington (Neeson), who staged his own daring jailbreak, in order to draw up an airtight plan. Later, John prepares to put his life on the line for the woman he loves, and sets the plan into motion with the knowledge that one false move could be their last.
The problem with The Next Three Days isn't that the film offers no thrills, just that it never achieves the momentum needed to give those thrills any real impact. Haggis' reworking of Fred Cavayé and Guillaume Lemans' original screenplay does a commendable job of painting Lara as a loving mother and keeping us in the gray regarding her guilt, though once John makes it clear that he would still break her out regardless of whether she sticks by her claim of innocence or not, that angle essentially loses its thrust. The decision to open the film with a portion of a scene that occurs midway through the film ultimately feels like not only a cheat, but a cheap one after we find out what's really happening just off-camera, and the numbingly repetitious prison visitation scenes come off as a blatant attempt by Haggis to fashion a typical potboiler into an Academy contender. Also, though it's admittedly compelling to watch suburban dad John fumble while committing to a life of crime, the crux of his plan -- to doctor Lara's medical records in an attempt to give himself a window of opportunity -- is unusually ham-fisted since he has no way of knowing when she would actually be transferred to the hospital for treatment. Even more implausible is the fact that the veteran detective who is pursuing John and Lara would need such an obvious clue as the one he gets to realize where the fleeing felons are headed. Of course, all movies require some suspension of disbelief, but the more seriously a film takes itself the more open it becomes to scrutiny, and The Next Three Days is nothing if not deadly serious.
The Next Three Days isn't necessarily a bad film -- it's technically accomplished, well directed, and capably acted -- it just never hits any real stride since the drama is too overbearing, and the action too underwhelming. As such, it suffers from comparison to more cohesive similarly themed efforts, and will likely be all but forgotten after making a quick flash at the box office.