`Cellular': Phone's a hit, plot's a dud

Kidnap-thriller dials up too many talking heads

MovieReviews

September 10, 2004|By Roger Moore | Roger Moore,ORLANDO SENTINEL

Cellular is a kidnapping-thriller starring the new Nokia 6600 cell phone. It co-stars Oscar winner Kim Basinger, one-time Oscar nominee William H. Macy and one of the kids from The Perfect Score.

Basinger plays Jessica Martin, a teacher who lives with her Realtor husband and unfortunately named son, Ricky. One day, she drops Ricky Martin off at school, comes home to a dead maid and a kidnapper.

Ryan (Chris Evans, of Score) is an irresponsible hunk who can't understand why his girlfriend (Jessica Biel) dumped him. He tries to prove himself dependable by dashing from the Santa Monica Pier to pick up T-shirts. That's when he gets the call. Thugs (Jason Statham leads them) have tossed Jessica in an attic with a smashed phone. She's a science teacher. She knows how the parts work. She can't dial 911. She can just dial willy-nilly. She gets Mr. Irresponsible, who's all, like, "Lady, you're wasting my minutes."

But he relents, takes the phone to a desk cop (Macy), who passes the kid on to homicide. That's when Ryan hears the villain slap Jessica around. Now, he's a believer.

The film darts from Los Angeles Airport to Century City, the Pier to the ugly oil wells of south L.A. The helpless voice on the other end of the line fades. A cell-phone charger must be procured. Phones are swapped and cars are jacked. Potential victims must be intercepted, and there's never a cop when you need one.

Director David R. Ellis manages a few sudden shocks, but he's never discovered the secret of ratcheting up suspense.

A big part of the problem is technical. We spend too much time seeing the people on the other end of the call. If they'd shown Basinger at the outset and then simply let Ryan hear her peril, Cellular would have been a lot more chilling.

And Cellular is just killed by the pursuit of the easy laugh. Riffs on rude and overwhelmed cell-phone salespeople, ill-mannered cell-phone users and the obsessive way people have come to rely on these toys kill any fear we have for the victim. It's almost two movies - a thriller, complete with thriller music, and a day-in-the-life of a handsome young cell-phone user, set to a pop score. The jarring cutting back and forth between these disparate tales undercuts the movie.

But the phone itself is a hit. Just don't drop it five stories (actually, a stunt phone). Or drive into a tunnel with it. Or use it for more than a few minutes, because the camera really drains the battery.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Cellular

Starring Kim Basinger, Chris Evans, William H. Macy, Jessica Biel, Jason Statham

Directed by David R. Ellis

Rated PG-13 (violence, language, sexual references)

Released by New Line

Time 94 minutes

SUN SCORE * 1/2

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