Reel Critics: Heart-pounding action but foggy plot in 'Next Three Days'

Paul Haggis is a director and screenwriter who has garnered Academy Award attention with "Million Dollar Baby" and "Crash." He helped rejuvenate the James Bond franchise in the 2006 update to "Casino Royale." In "The Next Three Days," Haggis teams up with Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks in a crime thriller that delivers real excitement along with a solid dose of confusion.

Crowe plays a mild-mannered teacher at a community college and Banks plays his wife. She is a well-dressed business woman whose boss is found dead on the same day they both had a loud public argument. A stunning murder conviction sends the wife to prison for the crime. But the foggy screenplay leaves us wondering if she is guilty.

Crowe is slowly transformed from a wimpy teacher into a hard-charging commando to rectify this situation. He ends up jumping into Pittsburgh's criminal underground to get what he needs to spring his wife from jail. The build-up to his plan takes way too long to develop. But once the action starts, it's a heart-pounding ride all the way to the final curtain that will satisfy fans of the genre.

* All's 'Fair' in love and war

"Fair Game" is about a D.C. couple, Joe and Valerie (Sean Penn and Naomi Watts), who juggle careers, heavy business travel, and care of their young twins. They love and believe in their work and, as Valerie says, always try to "remember the truth."

Oh, yes. Valerie happens to be Valerie Plame, the now-infamous CIA officer whose identity was leaked in 2003 and triggered a storm of controversy as well as a federal investigation. Her husband, Joe Wilson, is a diplomat whose fact-finding mission to Niger refuted the White House's statements about Iraq's suspected arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.

Based upon Plame and Wilson's memoirs, this well-acted, intelligent film works especially well as a portrait of a marriage in severe crisis after it's thrust into the national limelight.

Doug Liman, who directed the "Bourne" trilogy, does his own camera work here. It is meant to give the film a documentary look but can distract from the drama to the point of causing motion sickness.

Whatever your politics, "Fair Game" makes for a riveting look back at a chapter of recent history that continues to push people's buttons.

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator.

SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a financial services company.

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