The Next Three Days; PG-13, 122 minutes; Regal Downtown Mall 6


Astounded to see his vaguely hot-tempered wife imprisoned for a murder she swears she didn’t commit, a vaguely even-tempered professor concludes that he must try to break her out. His motive for this dubious conclusion, in writer-director Paul Haggis’ estimation, seems to be that he’s in a thriller about a guy who tries to break his wife out of prison. Hey, it could happen; it did in the recent French film Anything for Her (which in French stopped short of “anything” and just was called Pour Elle), the source for this overdetermined remake. 

Russell Crowe plays an English professor at a community college who hatches a plan to bust his wife (Elizabeth Banks) out of jail after she is convicted of murder in Oscar-winner Paul Haggis’ The Next Three Days.

The professor is played by Russell Crowe, and his wife is played by Elizabeth Banks. He has cleverness and determination; she has a sweet face that makes it easy to believe she doesn’t deserve this. If only that were enough.

Haggis, the Oscar-laden ex-Scientologist who wrote and directed Crash, and who wrote Million Dollar Baby, Clint Eastwood’s two Iwo Jima movies and two recent James Bond movies, has a penchant for agitators persevering through desperate situations. He also bends toward bloat, and at times his title, The Next Three Days, seems like a disclaimer about how much time this movie takes to get where it’s going.

Maybe that’s why plausibility becomes a problem. We have time to consider how absurd it all is, to think: Hey pal, isn’t busting her out a little extreme? Couldn’t you put yourself through law school and take up the fight from the inside, as Hilary Swank did for Sam Rockwell in Conviction? Or maybe you could send in some hottie to seduce and blackmail the parole officer, as Edward Norton did to Robert De Niro with Milla Jovovich in Stone? Of course, those examples proved underwhelming, thriller-wise, but we’re just saying there are other options.

Here, the stakes are high but generic, with any moral and legal implications served up as mere story stuffing. After brief, potent tutelage from Liam Neeson as an accomplished prison escapee, plus some YouTube research and a few schooling transactions with seedy underworld thugs, Crowe’s alleged everyman is ready for action. 

But reflexively rooting for our protagonist isn’t the same as caring about him. It’s hard to know what to make of his alleged desperation. He says he’s useless without her, but then seems keenly organized and purposeful when planning his grand caper on her behalf. Is it actually that he’s useless without the challenge of rescuing her? That might be interesting—but apparently not to Haggis.

As the time wears on, she too becomes desperate, palpably so. Twice she tries to kill herself—once in a manner that also endangers the life of her husband. So, uh, will there be mental health care, for both of them, in their getaway place?