THE NEXT THREE DAYS wants you to believe it's something more than a two-fisted genre picture, but it's not. Despite its sleepy pace, somber tone, and the city of Pittsburgh's supporting role as Blahsville Boringtown, this film is destined to sit right between Death Wish I-IX and The Fugitive on any "Average Guy Pushed to Extremes" shelf.
Next Three Days is based on the 2008 French film Anything for Her, and it's adapted here by Paul Haggis, whose natural portentousness keeps everything from being less silly than it should be. (Haggis, you might remember, is the writer of Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace [YAY!], but is also the writer/director of Crash and In the Valley of Elah [BOO!].) Russell Crowe plays John Brennan, a flabby community college English professor who decides to take action when his wife, Lara (a grungified Elizabeth Banks), is convicted of murder. Guilty or not, Lara has no chance of appeal, and Crowe isn't going to let her rot in lockup without at least attempting a jailbreak. Thus, some seriously tempered badassery goes down: We're talkin' high-speed getaways in a Prius, criminal mischief with an iPhone, and Crowe finding time to drop his son off at a zoo-themed birthday party between capers.
The funny thing is, just as I thought I was getting comfortable, I realized The Next Three Days actually had me all worked up. Crowe dials his charisma back so far he gives the impression of being on a prolonged Nembutal bender—yet somewhere during his journey from schlub to super felon, I started biting my nails.
The Next Three Days is a film that works from moment to moment. (There's no time to question the big picture because... oh shit! A train's coming!) The second half of the movie is basically a montage of Crowe narrowly avoiding disaster with exactly the kind of last-minute, clever solutions that made all the old men sitting in the theater give satisfied grunts like they'd orchestrated them. Still, by the film's last reel, I had stopped caring whether I'd seen this film before, and stopped imagining Elizabeth Banks as her character from 30 Rock, and stopped wondering when Russell Crowe got so fat and sleepy. I just wanted to know what would happen next.