4 April 2003
Schumacher's movies are a lot more fun when he's thinking small.
When he has a gargantuan budget like he did in the unbearable
Batman & Robin, his hyperactive visuals would seem like an
annoying distraction if it weren't for the fact that there was no
content to back them up. His Batman movies are terrible
popcorn fare because the humans involved get lost in the gimmicks,
making even the coolest of special effects dull.
Somehow when he's
got a smaller canvas, a better script, Matthew Libatique's dazzling
cinematography and Irish star Colin Farrell (The Recruit),
Schumacher's films improve exponentially. His latest was shot in a
mere twelve days and seems all the better because of its modesty.
Phone Booth could be, with some fairness, dismissed as a
stylistic exercise. Thankfully, its quick pace and engaging
performances make it far more involving than simple experimentation.
In fact, for once, Schumacher's acrobatic camerawork and
wild-looking editing provide a nice complement to a static location.
takes place in a cramped New York City block that's a little
unsettling even though cell phones outnumber guns there. Using the
former, publicist Stu Shepard (Farrell) can do more damage than most
folks can with a bazooka. As he paces through the streets, his gift
of gab and skill with a bluff can turn idle boasting into concrete
results. His cocky manner upsets some of the journalists he
schmoozes, and he can even play on that dislike to hoodwink them
into plugging his acts.
His talents are
put to the test when he steps into his favorite phone booth (the
only one left in Manhattan) one time too many. Afraid his wife (Radha
Mitchell, Pitch Black) might spot his cell phone calls to his
mistress (Katie Holmes) on the bills, Stu discovers that someone has
been monitoring his visits to the booth and wants to teach him a
deadly lesson. When someone rings his booth, Stu answers, and a
menacing voice (belonging to a mesmerizing, assured Kiefer
Sutherland) on the other end of the line informs the silver-tongued
publicist that if he doesn't do as instructed, the caller will use
him for target practice with his high-powered rifle.
A couple of
convincing warning shots convince Stu the caller is demented enough
to support his threat. Worse, Stu's proximity to the recent bullet
holes earns the attention of the cops, especially one Capt. Ramey
(Whitaker), and the neighborhood quickly descends into a long
standoff with the police thinking that Stu is the one who fired the
The script by
B-movie veteran Larry Cohen (Maniac Cop, It's Alive!
and Black Caesar) makes the most out of the claustrophobic
situation. The unseen sniper is especially menacing because he
ranges from being gleeful sadist to being an eerie type of avenging
angel. Because we're really not sure if the caller is merely toying
with Stu or is on some kind of perverse moral crusade, he seems even
scarier. He has all of Stu's weaknesses pegged and is immune to the
publicist's considerable charm. He also has a creepy sense of humor.
When a negotiator tries to talk Stu out of the booth by exposing his
own personal foibles, Sutherland snaps, "Let's get this guy a seat
on Oprah." But this is more than even Oprah herself could take.
The fact that the
sniper is invisible gives less comfort. Schumacher's decision not to
muffle Sutherland's voice with a "telephonish" sound is another plus
because it makes his ominous pronouncements more immediate, and
allows more of the sick glee from the actor's tone to come through.
occasionally refreshing about Phone Booth is that the cops
who stumble on the stand off aren't stupid. In a lot of alleged
thrillers I've had to sit through lately (like Abandon), the
police are behind the audience by light years. As the captain in
charge of the standoff, Forest Whitaker plays a fellow who can read
between the lines well enough to tell that Stu is not in a typical
As the fellow
who's literally under the gun, Farrell plays both the slickly
successful huckster and the coerced repentant with equal finesse.
Despite Stu's earlier infractions and appalling mendacity, his
plight is involving enough to keep the film going.
last movie Bad Company, Phone Booth was delayed
because its storyline was too similar to recent headlines. The
former film about an attempted attack on New York City was postponed
because of 9-11, and Phone Booth seemed inappropriate in the
wake of the DC sniper attacks. Despite Schumacher's regrettable
decision to begin and end his new movie with a shot of a
communications satellite hovering over the Earth (does he have a
quota for special effects to use?), Phone Booth is actually
worth the wait.