Rated PG-13, 94 min. Directed by David R. Ellis. Starring Kim Basinger, Chris Evans, Jessica Biel, William H. Macy, Jason Statham.
The Asian film industry – particularly those writer/directors toiling in the horror genre – have been mining the myriad story possibilities inherent in modern technology for years now, with haunted cell phones at the fore in films such as Korea’s Byeong-hi Ahn’s Phone. It’s high time for the Americans to catch up to this trend, and cult favorite Larry Cohen (Q, God Told Me To) is apparently the man with the most ideas on the subject. He penned the smart 2002 thriller Phone Booth, which was directed by Joel Schumacher, and now this second film in his "phone trilogy" is upon us, helmed by Final Destination 2’s Ellis from a script by Chris Morgan. Cohen only nabs a "story by" credit this time out, but the film’s frantic pacing and high-concept panache is unmistakable as anyone else’s work. Cohen, whose longstanding penchant for taking ordinary Joes and placing them in extraordinary jeopardy might be seen as a loving lift from Hitchcock’s book of stylistic trickery, which is just as well since no one else seems to be up to the task of emulating the master these days. Wrong man, wrong place, wrong time is the crux of the story here (as it was in Phone Booth, which gave us, memorably, Colin Farrell trapped by a sniper in the last freestanding phone kiosk in NYC). The Perfect Score’s Evans is here as Ryan, a Santa Monica youth who finds himself on the receiving end of a randomly placed phone call from Jessica Martin (Basinger), a Brentwood soccer mom who’s the victim of a kidnapping, locked in a nameless attic by Snatch’s Statham and his dodgy American accent. Initially taking the woman’s frantic call for a prank, he almost hangs up but thinks better of it and enlists the aid of local police sergeant Bob Mooney (Macy). Things go wrong, and then very, very wrong as, one by one, the entire Martin family is taken captive, with their only hope for survival the tenuous link to Ryan’s cell phone. Increasingly on the wrong side of the law and having what must surely be the worst day of his young life as he struggles to locate the missing woman (over the course of the film he commits just about every traffic violation known to man, often with Cohen’s trademark black humor involved), Ryan is inexorably drawn into an increasingly dangerous situation that plays like a tour de force for director Ellis’ ability to set up one outrageous stunt after another. Macy provides both comic relief and narrative backbone, with his cop character only catching on to the ongoing plot by degrees over the course of the film. Ultimately, Cellular feels like a B-picture, but a smart, finely tuned one that wouldn’t have been out of place in Roger Corman’s mid-Seventies stable. The action here is literally nonstop, with enough twisted automotive metal to elicit shrieks of horror from Detroit, and the script surely can’t be faulted for not having enough nifty ideas jammed up its turbocharged backside. It’s mad, bad nonsense of the summer, popcorn variety, disposable but oh-so-much fun to endure, a roller coaster on a wobbly cinematic track.
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