By Leah Rozen
September 04, 2000 12:00 PM

Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn, Vincent D’Onofrio

In an era when even moderately successful movies spawn sequels, here’s hoping that The Cell doesn’t multiply. Or inspire imitations. That’s because this sumptuous-looking sci-fi thriller is, as they say in Texas, all hat. Though first-time film director Tarsem Singh, who learned his trade directing music videos (including R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”) and commercials, fills Cell with surreal, visually striking images, the movie is dramatically inert.

Singh takes forever to set up his basic story line, which goes like this: An FBI agent (Vaughn) has exactly 24 hours to find a kidnap victim (Tara Subkoff) before the cell in which she has been hidden fills up with water. Her abductor (D’Onofrio), a serial killer who drowns his victims in the cell and then mutilates them, can’t tell the cops where she is because he lapsed into a coma upon being captured.

Enter Jennifer Lopez. She plays a psychologist who has been conducting experiments with traversing the minds of the comatose via what the movie calls a “neurological synaptic transfer system.” Translation: While two fellow scientists twirl knobs and gaze intently at a monitor, Lopez dons a slinky bodysuit, which looks as if it were made of red licorice, and—fast forward—mentally tiptoes into the mind of the killer.

What does she find inside his cranium? Mostly, an opportunity to parade about in one glamorously outré outfit after another. She also encounters the killer’s mutilated prey as well as a live horse that has been sectioned off (echoing the work of contemporary British artist Damien Hirst) and a man whose entrails are being pulled from his stomach and wound onto a spit. Images, both ravishing and grisly, are piled upon images, creating an effect in which a music video seems crossed with a fashion layout, then layered with a painting by Hieronymus Bosch. It’s eye candy, all right, but lacks any nutritional value. Lopez (Out of Sight) mirrors the film in looking fabulous, but her character is so weakly written that her wardrobe seems to do most of her talking. (R)

Bottom Line: Sleek but awful