Review by Dustin Putman
2½ stars out of 4
Continuing to redeem himself for the twin travesties known as 1995's
"Batman Forever" and 1997's "Batman & Robin," director Joel Schumacher's
(1999's "8mm") "Phone Booth" is more of a stunt than a fully-developed
motion picture, but it is nonetheless pulled off with an engrossing
flair. The stunt in question is the film's novel premise, set almost
completely around a phone booth. The idea of watching someone talk
on the phone to a never-seen assailant for 81 minutes may sound unappealing,
but that is where you would be wrong. "Phone Booth," as thin and narratively
uncomplicated as can be, is a craftily orchestrated little thriller.
Set, we are told, on the final day before the last working phone booth
in New York City is shut down, Stu Shepard (Colin Farrell) is a suave,
fast-talking publicist, a wheeler-dealer who claims to know more than
he really does. Stu is also married to Kelly (Radha Mitchell), which
is why he bypasses his cell phone to call Pamela (Katie Holmes), an
aspiring actress he is thinking about sleeping with while offering
false promises of helping her break into the biz, at the phone booth.
Once he is off the phone with Pam, the phone suddenly rings. Making
the very bad mistake of picking it up, Stu is thrust into a quickly
mounting nightmare involving murder, blackmail, the police force,
the media, and the two women in his life, all orchestrated by a sniper
caller (Kiefer Sutherland) who refuses to stop his reign of terror
until Stu has confessed of all his sins.
Once "Phone Booth" gets going around the 15-minute mark, there is
no letting up until the end credits arrive. The film's rapid-fire
pacing, aided immeasurably through the editing by Mark Steven and
Joel Schumacher's stylish De Palma-esque use of split screens, goes
a long way in shielding its shortcomings. B-movie screenwriter Larry
Cohen (1997's "Uncle Sam") does a superb job of devising gradually
dire road blocks and dangerous circumstances to place Stu in, but
he hasn't developed the characters enough to give us a reason to truly care.
For rising sex symbol Colin Farrell, who has been in seemingly everything
this year ("The Recruit" and "Daredevil"), he has turned in another
tightly modulated and intense performance. Despite a few problematic
spots where his thick Irish brogue sneaks through, Farrell should
be heartily commended for how focused and unwavering his energy is
throughout. Unfortunately, his Stu isn't exactly the most sympathetic
of leads, as he is portrayed in the opening minutes to be a lying,
scheming double-crosser. When the viewer is then asked to put a driving
stake into his fate, it doesn't quite work.
Better is the technically complex exercise that "Phone Booth" personifies.
Nail-biting and absorbing, director Schumacher proves just how visceral
a movie can be when there is only one setting involved. The camera
angles and movements, brought to life in glorious digital video by
cinematographer Matthew Libatique (2002's "Abandon"), are never less
than interesting and stimulating. Meanwhile, Kiefer Sutherland (TV's
"24") does chilling wonders using no other prop than his voice as
the sniper caller. The supporting cast is effective, if noticeably
underwritten, with Forest Whitaker (2002's "Panic Room") as lead police
officer on the scene Capt. Ramey, Katie Holmes (2000's "The Gift")
as sort-of girlfriend Pamela, and Radha Mitchell (1998's "High Art") as wife Kelly.
With tensions at their highest point during the climax, the final
scenes of "Phone Booth" are a bit of a letdown--not because they are
bad in any way, but because they don't add up to nearly as much as
what the film seemed to promise. As a pulp thriller and modern morality
tale, "Phone Booth" gets the job done with vigor and ease. When it
is over, however, the lasting impression does not come close to equaling
the taut experience of watching it.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman