Phone Booth

By Mark Ramsey | 2003/04/06

You know the creative well has run dry when a cinematic high concept amounts to Speed in a phone booth. Speed? In a Phone Booth? Are they making movies designed to be eviscerated in this column, now?

In what the telemarketing industry might describe as the ultimate closing technique, if Colin Farrell hangs up the phone he will be shot. And if he doesn’t hang up, you’ll wish you were shot.

It has been a while since we had an entry in the Family Feud category called “Things you can’t stop doing without dying.” And in Hollywood, making crappy movies tops the list.

phonebooth_hookers.jpgThe action (and I use the term loosely) takes place in and around the last phone booth in Manhattan. Unfortunately, top notch entertainment lacks call waiting. And Phone Booth is less pulse-pounding and more pulse-dialing. See, when Fox says techno-thrillers, they really mean tech no-thrillers.

Colin and a phone booth – two protagonists with more in common than you might expect: The phone booth works for scale, while Colin works for tail. Colin, if you really want to co-star with an inanimate object, try William Shatner.

Leave it to a phone booth to put the 20th Century back into Fox. Hey Fox, I have an 8-Track Tape thriller I’d like to pitch! And how about this: If I take my TV off “mute,” WHAM! If I take my oven off “broil,” BOOM! If I stop flushing the toilet, POW!

Director Joel Schumacher has rarely left well-enough alone, which is why so few of his movies are well enough. Here, the claustrophobic, static setting is countered with a uniquely annoying picture-in-picture technique allowing us to see things going on elsewhere while still watching Colin in that damned phone booth. If only the picture-in-picture was a picture in a different theater.

Not until the end do you meet the baddie who torments Colin. For 80 minutes he’s nothing more than the disembodied voice of Kiefer Sutherland, although never for a second does it sound like Kiefer’s actually on a phone. Instead it sounds like he’s in a state-of-the-art studio sight-reading dumb-assed dialogue, sucking on a fatty, and laughing all the way to the bank:

phonebooth_whitaker.jpg“If you hang up, I will kill you,” mumbles Reefer Kiefer.

Wait, I can’t focus on the inaction when my eyes are rolling.

Ah, there’s nothing like the muzzle of a gun to teach you to appreciate the stuff in life that matters most. Colin, you see, is guilty of poor judgment and inhumanity to his fellow man. In the movies, this means repent or die. In the movie business, this means you’re Russell Crowe.

Our shooter has his rifle sight trained on Colin. We know this because of the tiny laser dot that dances across his chest, beaming like a lighthouse through our hero’s foggy Guinness breath. Look out! It will take more than a one big bushy black brow cabana stretched over two eyes to save Colin now!

Phone Booth marks another chance for Colin Farrell to open a movie that sinks into oblivion after one decent weekend. When have so many shots at celebrity left star-power snoozing at the Beverly Hills Hotel waiting for a wake-up call?

If life were fair, Colin would be fetching James Van Der Beek’s coffee. But life isn’t fair, and Phone Booth is somewhere between fair and poor.

Phone Booth isn’t director Schumacher’s first Flatliner and it won’t be his last. Here’s my advice: Avoid this long distance runaround.

Photos Copyright ©2003 20th Century Fox


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