A comatose serial killer (Vincent D'Onofrio) is captured by the FBI (led by agent Vince Vaughn) and, as only the unconscious murderer knows the location of his soon-to-die final victim, the Feds decide to "pick his brain" with the help of psychiatrist Catherine Deane (Jennifer Lopez), who's been experimenting with a device that enables her to literally enter the mind of somebody else and find the root of the problem there.
Hooked on her own technology, Catherine is more than happy to jump into the killer's mind – more for plot purposes than for any real character motivation – and the story begins. Or, rather, two hours' worth of stunning, surrealist imagery begins.
Tarsem Singh is best known for directing R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" video, an impressive visual feast itself. As such, you're right if you guessed that the director would prioritize his story far behind the look of his film. And you know what? In this case, that's okay. Because Mark Protosevich's script is chock-full of pretentious dialogue and plot contrivances. So turn off your logic chip and enjoy some of the strangest visuals to ever grace a studio film.
The Cell is a wild ride, even if Tarsem is less a visionary genius and more a master style thief, stealing from the best and most obscure filmmakers around; Tarkovsky, Paradzhanov, Jarman, the Brothers Quay, and even the "Losing My Religion" video are all, er, "paid homage to" here. But the man's got good taste, and we are treated to gorgeously saturated cinematography, Eiko Ishioka's rich costumes (she won an oscar for Bram Stoker's Dracula), trippy sets, and a fine score by Howard Shore that incorporates a great deal of Moroccan music.
While you might feel afterwards, as I did, that all that weirdness is in service of a shallow and unsatisfying story, I still recommend The Cell, if only for the beauty of its vision and the intensity of its experience.