Phone Booth

The hardest thing about a movie like Phone Booth is for the filmmakers to figure out a way to hold the audience's attention for its duration. After all, the movie is nothing more than a guy in a phone booth. That's why the film clocks in at under ninety minutes, and that's why it took screenwriter Larry Cohen (Misbegotten, The Ex) decades to flesh out a script. To put this in perspective, Cohen first talked about making this movie with Alfred Hitchcock. Cohen finally came up with the idea of having the protagonist trapped in the phone booth by a sniper, and just as the movie was about to see the light of day, reality intruded, delaying the release by a couple months. Although this movie is different enough as not to seem too eerie, the delay was probably good in terms of PR and publicity.

The final product is exciting for a while, then begins to feel contrived. Stu Shephard (Colin Farrell, Daredevil, The Recruit) is a slick public relations man. He is nice when he needs to be, which means he is pretty much a jerk all of the time. He gets what he wants, stepping over others in the process. Every day, he steps into the last phone booth in New York City to call Pam (Katie Holmes, Abandon, The Gift), one of his clients. He has a cell phone, but his wife Kelly (Radha Mitchell, Pitch Black, Four Reasons) checks his phone records. He receives a call after calling Kelly, and the voice on the other line (Kiefer Sutherland, Dead Heat, Paradise Found) tells Stu that he is watching him. As their conversation continues, it becomes clear that this person knows a lot of personal information about Stu.

He wants Stu to atone for his sins, and once Stu decides to leave he threatens Stu's life. He claims that he is a sniper, and as proof, he kills a prostitute that was trying to use the booth. Everybody around Stu thinks Stu did it, which brings in Captain Ramey (Forrest Whitaker, Panic Room, Green Dragon). Ramey tries to get Stu out of the phone booth, but the voice counters by saying that if Stu leaves, he will die. This becomes a media circus, and the longer it stretches, the less engaging Phone Booth becomes. The movie stretches even movie logic, and at times fails to play by its own rules. Things fall perfectly into place for some characters, and others miss crucial things that they didn't at the beginning of the film. The stakes are much higher, but instead of riveting the audience to the screen, Cohen begins to turn people away. It started off as a fascinating movie, but just turned into a so-so one.

Still, the first chunk of this movie is extremely tense, due to director Joel Schumacher (Bad Company, Tigerland) using every trick in the book. Split screen and pounding music establish a frenetic pace that refuses to let up. Things go bad a little while after Whitaker's character arrives. This is no fault of Whitaker, whose performance is pretty good. The same goes for Farrell, who ably conveys how his character completely falls apart due to some unknown tormentor. Cohen and Schumacher establish the Shepherd character in a minimal amount of time, so one can see both the before and after, and can empathize with the sniper when he rails on Stu's character flaws. This would be a step in the right direction for Farrell's roles if it hadn't been completed before his string of mediocre ones began.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 21 minutes, Rated R for pervasive language and some violence.

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