Note to Paul Haggis: Just because your film is titled “The Next Three Days” doesn’t mean it needs to feel like it lasts three days. But then this jailbreak yarn is so relentlessly ludicrous that even at an hour-and-a-half it would feel labored. So imagine how torturous it gets at a butt-tiring 133 minutes. That’s what I call cruel and unusual punishment.

Note to Paul Haggis: Just because your film is titled “The Next Three Days” doesn’t mean it needs to feel like it lasts three days. But then this jailbreak yarn is so relentlessly ludicrous that even at an hour-and-a-half it would feel labored. So imagine how torturous it gets at a butt-tiring 133 minutes. That’s what I call cruel and unusual punishment.


Haggis, however, calls it a movie; one that he truly believes is rife with excitement, intrigue and moral complexity. Oh, my, how he’s mistaken. In fact, if his name weren’t attached, I’d believe it to be the work of a journeyman, not the much-celebrated director of the Oscar winning “Crash.”


That goes double for Russell Crowe’s phoned-in portrayal of what has to be history’s most dexterous community college professor in John Brennan. He’s billed as an Everyman, and he probably would be if the average guy possessed the ingenuity of MacGyver, the cunning of 007 and the self-righteous tenacity of Travis Bickle.


Oh, yeah, this Everyman also miraculously finds the time to single parent a young Hollywood kid (Ty Sympkins), teach a literature course (“Don Quixote,” natch) and, before going to bed, devise an elaborate plan to break his wife out of prison. On top of that, he does all this and is still boring.


That’s some feat, but Crowe, whose career has been slip sliding away of late, is down for the challenge, repeatedly proving that his heart and suddenly flabby body just aren’t in it. Perhaps that’s because his character is too absurd to warrant his full attention.


At least he has more spark than the lifeless Elizabeth Banks, futilely trying to register as John’s homicidal honey of a wife, Lara. She’s all sugar and spice cut with enough Valium to fell a horse. Of course, you’d be disinterested, too, if you were stuck in the county jail without makeup or an item of clothing that wasn’t bright orange.


At least she’s not sporting cornrows and an indecipherable accent like Edward Norton’s over-the-top convict in “Stone.” But a little of Sam Rockwell’s feral anger from “Conviction” would have gone a long way in making her convicted killer register beyond a whisper. But then she’s not the star, Crowe is, and it’s his job to save his old lady by brazenly busting her out of the Allegheny County Jail – in broad daylight, no less.


Not to worry, when you have the guy (Liam Neeson) who literally wrote the book on jailbreaks guiding you, what chance do dozens of corrections officers and cops stand of stopping you, especially in a city like Pittsburgh that’s surrounded on three sides by water. Piece of cake!


Or at least that’s how Haggis envisions it in his poorly thought-out script, which hinges on everything unfolding exactly as John planned it, even if that plan doesn’t take the human element into account. Apparently John is convinced that all people are like Pavlov’s dog and will behave exactly the same at exactly the same time every day – no exceptions.


At least the break isn’t as ridiculous as some of the events leading up to it, like John going all Travis Bickle on a crystal meth dealer (Kevin Corrigan), or steadfastly resisting the subtle come-ons from a sexy single mom played by the gorgeous Olivia Wilde.


Like he did in “Crash,” Haggis fully indulges his love of moralizing, while going out of his way to show the bad and good that exist inside everyone. But does he really expect people to root for a guy to rob, kill and deceive in order to free his wife, who may or may not be guilty of killing her boss?


If he does, then I’ll have a puff of what he’s smoking.


THE NEXT THREE DAYS (PG-13) Cast includes Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks and Olivia Wilde. Co-written and directed by Paul Haggis. 1.5 stars out of 4.


Al Alexander may be reached at aalexander@ledger.com.