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Phone Booth

Starring Colin Farrell
Screenplay by Larry Cohen
Directed by Joel Schumacher

IN SHORT: For all of its flaws, a fine popcorn flick. [Rated R for pervasive language and some violence. 80 minutes]

The island of Manhattan hasn't had a full sized phone booth on its streets in decades -- we live there. We know. Perhaps knowing that there are enough critics in the Big Apple to dismiss his story with that factoid alone, writer Larry Cohen was wise enough to begin Phone Booth with a bit of voiceover narration that describes the object of the title as the very last one, due to be dismantled the day after this story takes place. Smart move. We'll let it go, so . . . into that booth goes publicist Stu Shepard (Colin Farrell) to make his daily call to a client slash potential mistress Pamela McFadden (Katie Holmes). Before he can leave the booth, once the call is finished, the phone rings. The voice on the other end (Kiefer Sutherland) tells Stu that, if he leaves the booth, he will be shot dead. To prove the point, the caller shoots one of the locals dead. And so begins director Joel Schumacher's Phone Booth a film that, to our perspective, is about the personification of "the wrath of a would be god." Except for the lack of worshipers and a long beard, the voice on the other end of the telephone has got the "obey me or die" bit down but good. Even better, the poor sap in the phone booth is the one all the Men in Blue think killed the local whose body is spilling its guts into the street.

Historically, we've either absolutely loved or absolutely hated Joel Schumacher's films. For the first time we find ourself square in the middle, which is an interesting place to be. Phone Booth sat on a shelf for a long time. First, due to fears of an association between this fictional story of a New Yorker terrorized and the then-fresh memory of the attack on the World Trade Center and then again, our local teevee reports, because of the sniper shootings in Washington DC. If anything, we are now more firmly convinced that marketing people think too much. Ninety nine percent of viewers can tell the difference between a fictional story and reality. All that kind of overthinking does is keep a great popcorn flick off your screens.

Phone Booth's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. First, though, this native automatically set a portion of our brains a workin' on figuring out where the gunshots were coming from; comparing what's on screen against our knowledge of the reality of the location -- which means more points to Schumacher since most of Phone Booth was shot on a street in downtown Los Angeles!. Yep, the ol' continuity cop was hard at work looking for mistakes in Schumacher's direction, all based on camera shots from the shooter's point of view. There's only one possible error and it's so minor that you'd be wasting your time looking for it. We wasted most of one screening for that reason yet, sitting through Phone Booth a second time, we were sucked in to this story yet again.

As the seriousness of the situatioin dawns on our helpless publicist the stakes keep inching up, yard by yard. Farrell's character initially thinks, as anyone would, that he can hang up the phone and walk away. But he can't -- Larry Cohen's script covers every base and every possible "out" we could think of. He starts with hookers screaming at the target to get off their phone (it's used for escort calls), brings in the pimp, drops a body on the street which brings New York's Finest (Forest Whitaker as the detective in charge) into the picture. Cops mean press and press means teevee, which brings both the wife (Radha Mitchell) and the not-yet-and-mayber-never-to-be mistress (Katie Holmes) to the scene. Cohen's script coupled with Sutherland's voice over runs the gamut from ludicrous to edge-of-seat-compelling. All the edge of the seat stuff comes at each moment you figure out a way for Stu the Sap to get away. Each possibility is shut down quickly. We get to see cops argue over who gets to be top dog; a wife and a potential lover face off across a crowded street; and the voice of not-god puts words in the mouth of his victim, who can't do a damned thing about it. That voice is having the best time of its life.

True, Phone Booth has some absolutely ludicrous and ridiculous moments. It also is strong enough that we couldn't take our eyes off the screen to write any of 'em down.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Phone Booth, he would have paid . . .


Phone Booth is the best example of a great popcorn flick we've been able to point to in a long time. You life won't be grandly affected if you miss it. Then again, if you buy the ticket thinking the concept is the dumbest thing you've ever heard of, as we did, you'll probably be very surprised at how enjoyable it is.

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