Woefully underrated. The Cell's negative critical reaction, most likely, is an immature reflex to the once-ubiquitous presence of Jennifer Lopez. Though I don't exactly like her either, the film is more than her, and she's underrated here anyway - the oversexed, babyish naivete is easily viewed as a character trait, more than Jennifer Lopez not knowing how to act. The director is far too in control of his film to let Lopez make these choices unchecked. Once you start to realize that Catherine has issues too, such as when we get a look into her impossibly rosy mind, the performance starts to become more palatable. Vince Vaughn and Vincent D'Onofrio are tolerable, but really, the acting is not the centerpiece here.
A phrase you will most likely hear a great deal, and possibly even use yourself a few times, in discussing film is "style over substance." It has its applications, but what many people fail to realize is film is all about style. It is an aesthetic before a narrative. Without a style, a film is almost always nothing, and in that regard a really fantastic style is its own substance. The Cell is an exemplary case in point. Tarsem Singh props up an entirely generic serial killer procedural with some of the most remarkable visuals ever put to film, turning formula into fantasy with seeming ease. It is lush and unforgettable, brutal, intelligent. And it's not filmed with vanity or excess; the grandeur fits perfectly with the themes of the story, most notably the unlimited depths of human insanity.
The film is no real success as a thriller, which is surely what Hollywood coerced Singh into making. To have Lopez helm the affair was obviously a necessary evil, because without her this project probably would never have gotten 30 million dollars thrown at it. What The Cell best offers is the portraiture of delusion, what our psyches can create without any limitation or boundary. It is a fascinating look at surreal manifestations of very real traumas. Above all, it is captivating, mesmerizing and burningly memorable. I can only hope that time will be kinder to this film than it's reaped so far.