It makes sense that Paul Haggis is set to remake the Spanish prison thriller Cell 211; a lot of what’s wrong with it is what’s wrong with Haggis’ recent The Next Three Days. In this dingy potboiler, just as in Three Days, the characters act like morons, doing the dumbest things at the right time. The screenplay regularly runs into walls, then cheats to get itself out. The film mixes luridness with failed profundity, but only reaches risible conclusions about the way humans work. As adapter, all Haggis has to do is translate it to English—no one will know the difference.
For reasons too embarrassing to relate, fresh-faced newbie prison guard Juan (Alberto Ammann) winds up inside the titular cell right as a riot and hostage situation breaks out. Quickly hiding his shoelaces, belt and wedding ring, he tries to pass himself off as one of the joint’s many angry badasses. Improbably—a word you’d better get used to should you sit through this picture—he’s so convincing an actor that he becomes the right-hand man of the riot’s architect, notorious, thick-goateed terrorist Malamadre (Luis Tosar).
At first, Juan just tries to survive long enough to slip out. Unfortunately, he’s at the mercy of shameless screenwriters, who throw in a second riot outside the prison, Juan’s dim, very pregnant wife and a fascist psycho who gets results. Soon, this blank-slate hero, played listlessly by Ammann, has found solidarity with murderers and assorted convicts.
There’s one thing that will be different about Haggis’ version: director Daniel Monzón is a lot less squeamish about going full genre. Overdirecting for maximum intensity, he keeps Cell 211 watchable even as the screenplay repeatedly goes off the rails. And he garners a fiery turn from Tosar, who slips in some vulnerability amongst the popped nerves. But this is still the kind of movie insecure enough to have our hero’s wife go into labor on the worst/best day possible. Its maker’s eye clearly on a Hollywood transfer, Cell 211 was made to be remade—specifically, it was made to be remade by Paul Haggis.