By EW Staff
Updated April 21, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

When you think of summer at the movies, you think Goobers and popcorn. Until now. If the makers of this psychological thriller have their way, ”The Cell” will have you reaching for a sick bag. ”We’re going to get a lot of shit for this,” says D’Onofrio, optimistically. ”People are going to vomit. There were days where I’d think, ‘Are we going to get away with this stuff?”’ Adds director Tarsem: ”This material’s very harsh. I wanted the audience to know the cutting edge, and slice its hand with it.”

Among the grisly stuff they hope to get away with: a scene in which D’Onofrio, playing a serial killer, disembowels one of his victims. ”Somehow, the intestines got stuck,” recalls the first-time feature director, whose last name is Dhandwar, but who goes only by his first. ”They were supposed to rip right out. So D’Onofrio just stands there and starts playing the intestines like a harp. People are going to be dead silent or laughing their asses off — or both — when they see that.”

It’s also kinda funny that Lopez plays what promises to be the sexiest scientist since Denise Richards’ nuclear physicist in ”The World Is Not Enough.” In the film, written by Mark Protosevich (who also wrote the original script for August’s ”Impostor”), Lopez uses an experimental neurological technique to literally get inside the brain of the temporarily comatose serial killer, who takes pleasure in watching his victims drown in a slowly filling water chamber. Vaughn, playing an FBI agent, and Lopez, whose team of doctors includes Jean-Baptiste (”Secrets & Lies”) and Baker (”Happiness”), race to find D’Onofrio’s latest kidnappee before the killer wakes from his stupor. Director Tarsem expects that his ornate visual style (seen, for instance, in R.E.M.’s ”Losing My Religion” video and in television spots for Nike and Smirnoff) will result in ”a graphic opera about trying to understand the mind of a serial killer. And there’s no such thing as a subtle opera.”

He’s also trying to avoid an NC-17 rating, and is now in the last stages of editing before the MPAA makes its final rating decision. ”I’m just hoping it holds up after we’re done,” he says. Vaughn, for one, wonders how much of the explicit material can be excised: ”That’s tough. There’s just no way around its darkness.” And what of Lopez, recently none too controversy-immune herself? Tarsem reports that she was ”the most accommodating of the lot — when it came to acting.”