Get off the phone
Director Joel Schumacher thinks you’re an idiot. His new film, Phone Booth, starts out with a hit-you-over-the-head explanation of how phone booths are going out of style in the age of widespread cellular intrusions. It’s almost as if the movie is apologizing for what you are about to see—a sniper thriller so bold as to use an antique like the ever-fading phone booth as one of its central characters. Phone booths are old … we get it. Now start your damned movie!
A strange beginning voiceover makes it sound like we are about to watch a Twilight Zone episode (a vibe further fostered by the eventual appearance of Forrest Whitaker, current host of the new Zone TV show, as a police officer). Then we are introduced to Stu Shephard (Colin Farrell), a fast-talking publicity man whose cellular phone is as essential to him as oxygen.
Stu’s daily routine has him stopping at a Manhattan phone booth, removing his wedding ring and making telephone passes at a wannabe actress (Katie Holmes). This sets him up for the film’s central gimmick: a stalker (voiced by Kiefer Sutherland) finds him morally reprehensible for overt flirting and sets out to make an example of him. The phone rings, Stu answers, and promptly finds out that his day has been ruined because there’s a long-range rifle aimed at his flashy Italian-suit-wearing ass. For some maniacal stalkers, even the mere suggestion of infidelity can inspire highly improbable terrorist plots for so-so psychological thrillers.
It’s your basic cat and mouse scenario, with the catch being that the mouse doesn’t get to grab the cheese and take refuge in a hole in the wall. Stu is not allowed to hang up the phone, lest he wants a bullet in the buttocks, so 90 percent of the film consists of watching an anxious guy having a disturbing phone conversation. Have you ever stood by while a rude acquaintance jabbered away for a long time on a telephone? It can be awfully grating on the soul, right? That’s basically what Schumacher asks you to do for 90 minutes.
Sutherland’s voiceover is horribly overdone (when he laughs, he sounds like Vincent Price in Michael Jackson’s suck-ass Thriller video). Farrell actually manages to make some of the movie worth watching. While Stu’s quirks are based mostly in NYC stereotypes, there is something urgent and appealing in Farrell’s tightly wound performance. All the buzz surrounding this guy, touting him as the next Tom Cruise or whatnot, seems to have some merit. He’s good, even when occupying derivative crap.
This is a Schumacher movie, so clichés and stereotypes must abound. Get a load of the crack whores and pimps who terrorize Stu during the early stages of his ordeal. It’s as if the dialogue and characterizations were inspired by a seventh-grade term paper titled “My Impressions of a Drugged-Up Hooker’s Life After Watching a Miami Vice Marathon.” Nobody in the world acts like these cartoon characters, unless, of course, they are marking time in a Schumacher flick.
Phone Booth (which originally was to star Jim Carrey—that would’ve been interesting) had a hard time getting a release date due to recent Washington, D.C., sniper incidents. While the parallels are interesting, the news events have wound up putting a sense of importance on a trite film.
While it has an impressive star at its core, its director is too fond of conveying subtleties with the tender approach of a two-by-four to the temple. Joel Schumacher sucks, and it’s only due to his film’s star that Phone Booth is something less than terrible.