"What if we choose to exist solely in a reality of our own making?" asks Pittsburgh community-college lit professor John Brennan (Russell Crowe) rhetorically to his class in Paul Haggis' fourth effort as director. Like his lumpy protagonist, Haggis, who also scripted this remake of the 2008 French thriller Pour Elle, too confidently assumes viewers are as quick to abandon sense and logic. The film's ordeal begins one morning three years ago at the breakfast table of the loving Brennan household, which includes short-fused wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks, barely onscreen) and 3-year-old son Luke. Domestic bliss is interrupted as the cops barge in to arrest Lara for murder, right at the moment she's trying to wash a bloodstain out of her trench coat. Convinced of his wife's innocence, John cooks up labyrinthine plans to spring Lara from jail, involving a lot of Googling, blowing up a meth lab, and packing a toiletry kit for her great escape. Haggis has never been one for nuance or persuasive storytelling, as anyone who's seen Crash or In the Valley of Elah knows. But a co-writing credit on 2006's Casino Royale at least proved his ability to map out a sleek caper. That skill is not evident in The Next Three Days, so overcrowded with incompetent cops and near-mute blood ties that it fails in its attempts to maintain any suspense and establish John as a devoted family man, monomaniacally driven to a desperate act.
Crowe and Banks on the lam.
Opens at Metro and other theaters, Fri., Nov. 19. Rated PG-13. 122 minutes.