When was the last time we saw a good old fashioned priso break movie? We had a great one on TV until it flew off the rails in the fourth season, but movie-wise, was it The Rock? And that was really a prison break-in movie. The Next Three Days is not the next great prison breakout hit. It’s really, really stupid but in the best “so crazy I can’t believe it’s a movie” way.
Lara Brennan (Elizabeth Banks) is sent to prison for murder. John Brennan (Russell Crowe) loses her last possible appeal and gets so desperate he plans a prison break. He’s no Steve McQueen though, so he messes up the way a real person might if he were trying to act out a movie plot.
I guess the craziest part is early enough in the film and fundamental enough to the plot that it’s not really a spoiler. John gets his plan from the ultimate prison escapist, Damon Pennington (Liam Neeson). He found Pennington through the public library because he wrote a book about his seven escapes. It gets better though. John learns how to pick locks from YouTube videos. I guess this is a prison break for the YouTube generation.
It’s so weird because there are just enough trappings of legitimacy that you can’t believe it’s actually so silly. They’re subtle about the details of the case because it really doesn’t matter why she’s in prison. That’s the MacGuffin. They establish the family well enough with John’s humor in domestic situations, and Lara’s reactions to his plans are surprising. Making it all a Don Quixote metaphor was a big Paul Haggis-y. By the way, Paul is a community college professor, so he talks about literature once.
Damon basically lays out the boundaries of the breakout, where John has to get in the first 15 minutes, and then the first 35, so we can count down as it gets down to the wire. John starts collecting his supplies, going to street hoods for fake IDs and making his homemade skeleton keys (to be fair, I did find bump key videos on YouTube for real.) He cases the joint, tests out his bump keys and toughens up on the street because he’ll need to be hardcore to pull this off.
Creating suspense requires major lapses in paying attention. I know Paul is stressed, but he makes blatantly careless mistakes. Yeah, the point is he’s not Mr. Cool Heist but he should still read his own plans in their entirety. Then the story ignores basic laws. Let’s just say that drivers in The Next Three Days don’t respond to road incidents like you or I would.
Both John and Lara make bold, dramatic declarations, creating emotional turns from scene to scene. Those are movie moments, not real feelings. There’s no value to one if it’s undone in the next immediate scene. Brian Dennehy is hired to play John’s dad so he can bring a little believability to his mostly wordless scenes. Lt. Nabulsi (Lennie James) shows up out of nowhere to become the lead lieutenant chasing the Brennans. He would have been a good character if he’d existed before the breakout started.
I kind of love that it’s that kind of movie. The Next Three Days is bad but you can totally enjoy watching it, not on an ironic level but on the level of “I wonder what they’re going to pull to get out of the next corner they paint themselves into.” I’m especially surprised that Crowe and Haggis made this. They’re usually so serious but it seems they just went WTF.