PHONE BOOTH (***)
Movie Review by:
Jim "Good Old JR" Rutkowski
Colin Farrell, Forest Whitaker, Katie Holmes
for profanity and violence.
Phone Booth became one of a number
of post-9/11 films to fall victim to an increasing reluctance on
the part of motion picture studios to release movies where
on-screen events echo real-world tragedies. Joel Schumacher's
thriller was originally set to enter multiplexes in November
2002, but, as a result of the shooting spree by a Washington
D.C.-area sniper, 20th Century Fox decided to delay the release.
The result makes for a pleasant early-year surprise. Phone Booth
is certainly good enough to compete with the fourth quarter
crowd. Placed in early spring, it offers viewers the best pure
thriller of 2003 to-date.
The best way to describe Phone Booth is preposterous but
entertaining. Due in large part to tight editing, a brisk pace,
and a high level of suspense, we are able to suspend our
disbelief for about 80 minutes. Afterwards, even a moment's
consideration will reveal an avalanche of plot holes, but it is
a tribute to the filmmakers that these are not recognized until
after the end credits have rolled. Hitchcock referred to this
sort of film as a "refrigerator movie" (you'd think of a
plausibility problem while getting a post-movie snack from the
refrigerator), and he would appreciate what Schumacher has
Stuart Shepard (Colin Farrell) is a fast-talking publicist who
thinks he's on top of the world. Wearing designer suits and a
fake luxury watch, he struts down the sidewalks of Manhattan
with his assistant in tow, talking on a cell phone and not
taking "no" for an answer. A voiceover informs us: "It used to
be a mark of insanity to see people talk to themselves. Now,
it's a mark of status." Then comes Stuart's daily visit to the
telephone booth at 53rd & 8th, from which he calls a pretty
young actress named Kelly (Katie Holmes). Stuart finds her
attractive and has entertained thoughts of pursuing an affair
with her. Although he hasn't done anything yet, he uses the
booth so his wife (Radha Mitchell) won't see Kelly's number on
his phone bill. But Stuart's daily routine has not gone
unnoticed, and, as soon as he hangs up with Kelly, the booth's
phone rings. A voice (that of actor Kiefer Sutherland,
moonlighting from his TV series, "24") informs Stuart that he is
"guilty of inhumanity to your fellow man" and the "sin of spin -
avoidance and deception". The voice states that he has a
high-powered rifle trained on the phone booth from one of the
many buildings with a view of the intersection, and if Stuart
leaves the enclosure, he will be killed. To prove his point, the
voice takes a victim. Suddenly, panic is everywhere and the
police, led by a captain (Forest Whitaker), arrive and demand
that Stuart hang up the phone and step out of the phone booth.
On one level, it's amazing that a movie about a man being
trapped inside a phone booth could be successful, but Phone
Booth works for many of the same reasons that Speed does - the
script takes a seemingly dead-end premise and keeps throwing in
new twists. One key to enjoying this movie is not to engage in
"out of the box" thinking (or, arguably, any thinking at all) -
it's better to uncover the problems and inconsistencies after
the movie is over, not while it's unspooling. For those willing
to accept this approach, Phone Booth will hold together
surprisingly well while maintaining a high adrenaline level.
For Colin Farrell, this is another in the line of high-profile
performances that have catapulted him from obscurity to stardom.
Even before its sniper-related delay, the movie had been sitting
on the shelf for a while, because the producers wanted to wait
to release it until Farrell was a more bankable name. "Bankable"
certainly describes him at this stage of his career. Farrell
carries the movie, showing how fear and uncertainty can humble
the slickest and most cock-sure of men. Forrest Whitaker
provides solid support as the policeman who refuses to allow a
"suicide by cop" to occur on his watch, and begins to believe
that Stuart may be a hostage, rather than a hostage-taker.
Obviously, with a phone booth, there is claustrophobia. In
addition, for most of the film, the villain is faceless - a
cold, menacing voice on the other end of a phone line, playing
at being God. Give Kiefer Sutherland credit for doing as much as
he does with limited opportunities. Like in Steven Spielberg's
Duel or John Dahl's Joy Ride, we are confronted with an
implacable enemy. As time wears on, Stuart finds his range of
options increasingly limited. He's a pawn in a one-sided game
that may only end with his death. Phone Booth makes us care
whether or not this happens.
PHONE BOOTH © 2003 20th Century Fox
All Rights Reserved.
Review © 2003 Alternate Reality, Inc.
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