Presumably aimed at viewers who are allergic to subtitles, The Next Three Days is a faithful Hollywood remake of a recent French thriller, Pour Elle, in which a school teacher plots to spring his wife from prison.
In this version, Russell Crowe stars as the teacher, a casting decision which immediately robs the story of some of its fish-out-of-water intrigue. When an actor specialises in policemen, boxers, gladiators and Robin Hood, he's always going to seem more uncomfortable in a classroom than he does robbing a crack den to fund his getaway. But Paul Haggis, the writer-director, doesn't give his characters much thought. He's fixated on the mechanics of picking locks and forging passports, most of which can be learnt, it seems, from YouTube tutorials, but he skates over the more compelling questions of how a middle-class mother (Elizabeth Banks) would be found guilty of a gruesome murder, and why her mild-mannered husband would attempt such a violent – and far-fetched – jailbreak. Haggis's slow, methodical film lasts half an hour longer than the French original, so it's strange that he can't find the time to tell us what happened at Banks's trial. The climactic action sequence is reasonably tense, when it finally comes, but we care so little about the participants that it's not much more than a YouTube tutorial itself. Next Week: Nicholas Barber sees The Green Hornet, to find out what a superhero film directed by Michel Gondry is like Also Showing: 09/01/2011 Abel (85 mins, 15) Diego Luna's directorial debut is a charmingly odd Mexican comedy drama about a tantrum-prone nine-year-old boy, above, who's released from a mental institution into the custody of his mother and siblings. They're afraid that he might be taken into care again, so when he starts sitting at the head of the table, wearing his absent dad's pyjamas, and generally acting as if he's the man of the house, they do their best to play along. But then his actual father turns up. Luna doesn't quite know how to finish the story – which is, he claims, semi-autobiographical – but the local colour, farcical plotting, natural performances and spiky social commentary all bode well for an impressive second career behind the camera. Amer (90 mins, 18) Amer consists of three cryptic vignettes in the life of its heroine, Ana, first as a girl creeping around her family's shadowy mansion, then as a teenager attracting the attention of a biker gang, then as a woman returning to her boarded-up home. A tribute to the overheated Italian giallo crime melodramas of the 1970s, Amer is a barrage of heightened sound effects, thunderous music and extreme close-ups, with almost no dialogue and even less coherent narrative, but plenty of gore and surrealism instead. Quentin Tarantino would love it, and aficionados of the more pretentious 1980s New Romantic videos will spot a lot they recognise, but the directors' obsessive technique is best appreciated in the small doses provided by their earlier short films. At feature length, it's a headache.