BY RACHEL CARNACHAN
Phone Booth is a daring and tightly-woven thriller that delivers maximum suspense from minimum resources. Quite an achievement in a genre recently dominated by flabby and mediocre fare. The impressive performance put in by Hollywood’s resident ratbag, Colin Farrell – who apparently found time to do a spot of acting amid his hectic schedule of Britney Spears-snogging and coke-snorting – makes this piece of pulp cinema worthy of your $8.50, in spite of the ludicrously far-fetched plot.
Much of the credit for Phone Booth’s success must go to Larry Cohen for his imaginative, well-crafted screenplay that balances both comic and tragic elements while sustaining a good measure of suspense. In this era of prolific cell phone use, it takes a bold man to write a movie about a phone booth. I mean, who even uses public telephones these days apart from Tony Soprano’s lackeys? According to Cohen, the modern pay phone also caters to the married infidel who uses it to line up his booty calls lest his wife check his cell phone bill.
Farrell plays the lead character, Stu Shepard, a smug, deceitful publicist who devotes his talents to his own self-promotion. My investigative research into Farrell’s off-screen exploits, as reported in the reliable pages of US Weekly and In Touch, leads me to believe the actor did not have to delve too deeply to find his inner “Stu”.
The action revs up when the married Stu enters a public phone booth at a busy intersection on 53rd and 8th streets in Manhattan to call Pamela, a struggling actress (played by an overly puppy-dog eyed Katie Holmes) he is attempting to seduce. Just as Stu is about to exit the phone booth after calling Pamela, the phone starts ringing and Stu picks up. Oops. Unfortunately, the anonymous caller at the other end of the line is a deranged sniper (a spooky Keifer Sutherland) who orders Stu to stay on the phone with him and obey his commands, or face a bullet. Not exactly your garden variety rock-and-a-hard-place situation.
At first, Stu laughs off the threats, but as the sniper taunts him with snippets about Stu’s personal and professional life, it becomes clear that this is not a random encounter. Let the mind games begin! Apparently the sniper is on some kind of moral crusade to force Stu to bare his sinful soul to the world, or to pay the ultimate price. Within the confines of this urban confessional booth, Stu Shepard follows the sniper’s instructions and triggers the series of events that lead to the dramatic finale. Farrell shines in this demanding role that requires him to chronicle Stu’s descent from a bulletproof yuppie to a genuinely terrorized and remorseful man, without crossing the fine line into melodrama. And I’m not just saying that because he’s so extremely easy on the eye.
Of course, there is a bit of predictable Hollywood moralizing, but it is less heavy-handed than usual, and Joel Schumacher uses some slick camera work and speedy editing to deftly paper over the logic deficit of why the sniper would target Stu, a dishonest publicist, in a city crawling with far more culpable targets.
All in all, Phone Booth is an entertaining little thriller that will provide you with a welcome diversion from your third year paper or whatever schoolwork you’re grinding your way through at the moment.