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"The Next Three Days" is a thriller that works if you don't stop to think about it — and even then just barely, as the number of implausibilities pile up like cordwood.

The movie, a remake of the French thriller "Pour Elle (Anything for Her)," centers on the Brennan family, who seem too perfect to be true — husband John (Russell Crowe), a soft-spoken college instructor; wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks), a determined businesswoman; and their cute-as-a-button son Luke. That perfect life is shattered when Lara is accused and convicted of murdering her boss, even though she insists she's innocent.

For three years, John pursues every legal avenue to free Lara. When those run out, he starts looking at illegal alternatives — first by chatting up a serial jailbreaker (nicely played by Liam Neeson, though he has only one scene) who tells him the hard truth, that getting someone out of jail isn't as hard as staying free afterward.

John starts studying everything he can, in libraries and on the Internet, to devise an elaborate plan to free Lara from a Pittsburgh prison, and then get her, himself and Luke (played at age 6 by Ty Simpkins) out of the Steel City. Along the way, John is tested — to see if he can do what is necessary, including murder, to make this plan happen.

Crowe is game to explore that psychological dilemma, to see what a man pushed to the brink will do. But the movie never gives him enough of a chance. Director/screenwriter Paul Haggis ("Crash," "In the Valley of Elah") pays short shrift to John's internal struggle, so he can devote more of the movie to the clockwork mechanics of the plot.

That plot is as finely crafted as a Swiss watch, and with just as many moving parts. But in terms of plausibility, it's got more holes than Swiss cheese, and is far too dependent on coincidence and luck — plus an indecent amount of criminal knowledge for a college lecturer teaching about Don Quixote — for its success. It also leaves too many good supporting players (such as Brian Dennehy as Jack's gruff dad, and Olivia Wilde as the comely mom of one of Luke's classmates) with not enough to do to justify their billing.

But, in the moment, "The Next Three Days" will get your heart racing. You just won't remember why three days later.


The Next Three Days

A tense thriller that falls apart when you stop to consider its implausibilities.

Where • Theaters everywhere

When • Now open

Rating • PG-13 for violence, drug material, language, some sexuality and thematic elements

Running time • 133 minutes