Phone Booth

May 29th, 2003 Film, Film Reviews, Xpress

Starring: Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland, Forest Whitaker, Katie Holmes

The optimistic could say Hollywood executives are sensitive and decent folk who don’t want to upset people by releasing movies at inappropriate times. The cynical could say they don’t want to spend $100 million on a movie only to have it sink like a stone because nobody wants to see movies about terrorists, hijackings or buildings collapsing right now.

Just like September 11 claimed its victims in Hollywood, so too those whackos shooting people from a car boot in Washington late last year made their presence felt in US movie studios, and Colin Farrell vehicle Phone Booth has sat finished in a 20th Century Fox vault for almost a year waiting for a slow news day. After all, nobody was in the mood for a movie about a psychotic sniper at the time.

Hopefully, now that Phone Booth is finally releasing this week, it’ll get the credit it deserves despite the subject matter, as its an exciting, well executed film.

After names like Tom Cruise, Will Smith, Jim Carrey and Mel Gibson were attached (all dropping out after realising the title character was virtually the entire script), Irish bad boy Colin Farrell jumped in with gusto, and Joel Schumacher’s taut direction gets an extra boost.

The high concept premise is that superficial, two-bit PR executive (Farrell) Stu Shepard is calling his girlfriend on the sly from a phone booth every day because his wife reads his mobile bills.

After his daily call one fateful morning, the phone ring back. What do you do when a phone rings — even though it’s a public phone in a busy street and it can’t possibly be for you? As the chilling voice of The Caller (Sutherland) teases repeatedly, you answer it.

Hang up, he tells Stu, and the rifle trained on you will shoot you dead.

From there, the whole story revolves around the booth. After the killer proves his determination on a local pimp harassing Stu for use of the phone, everyone from the police and news cameras to his wife and girlfriend show up.

The Caller just wants him to confess his sins — in front of the whole world. Stu has to play the psycho’s game, try to communicate to the streetwise detective in charge (Whitaker) what’s going on, and hope someone, including himself, doesn’t feel the next slug.

The suspense is cracking, never letting up despite flashes of sudden humour in the script. Director Schumacher, who’s known for everything from sharp indie-style vanity projects like Flawless to overstuffed studio turkeys like Batman and Robin, uses some interesting devices and effects to tell the story. The split screen method gets a bit much at times, and some of the groovier embellishments like the fish eye lens and animated flashbacks aren’t really necessary.

As The Caller, Kiefer Sutherland is a bit hammy, and in letting his voice be his whole performance, he comes out sounding like a bad impression of Count Dracula at times — you almost expect him to break out into a Dr Evil-style ‘Mwa ha ha ha ha ha’.

But Farrell is star material in the making as he commands almost every second of screen time, and Phone Booth will keep you tightly wound and engaged the whole way through.

And yes, Producer David Zucker is the same guy who did Flying High all those years ago.

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