Sunday, September 12, 2004

Movie: Cellular (2004)

Nobody exemplifies the B-movie spirit better than Larry Cohen (Q, IT’S ALIVE). Why settle for wringing one script out of an idea when you can get two? In the ultimately disappointing PHONE BOOTH, a guy answers a call and can’t move. The same thing happens here, only this time the guy never slows down.

And neither does the movie, one of the happiest surprises of the year. Cohen’s script has been rewritten by Chris Morgan, but his fingerprints remain all over it. A simple premise – a kidnap victim (Kim Basinger) dialing random numbers on the remains of a shattered telephone hooks up with a callow surfer (Chris Evans) – is pushed as far as it can go. Every conceivable complication involving a cell phone call has been worked into the story. You can almost picture Cohen’s checklist. “Low battery? Got that. Driving into a tunnel, done.” There’s not a wasted moment. The movie unfolds in a fierce 87 minutes, helped along enormously by David Ellis’ unpretentious direction.

Evans makes a likable lead, boding well for his future as The Human Torch in the upcoming FANTASTIC FOUR movie, but the day is carried by his costars. Basinger’s character gets to demonstrate surprising resilience. And the action heroics come courtesy of William H. Macy, playing a hangdog cop on the verge of retiring to open a beauty parlor. Sorry, day spa. There’s even room for LAST COMIC STANDING’s season one winner, Dat Phan.

CELLULAR is one of those crackerjack thrillers destined to become a home video staple. It certainly won’t suffer on DVD. But don’t deny yourself the opportunity to see it in the theater. The showing I was at became an authentic grindhouse experience, with everyone in the audience – including me – talking to the screen, hooting and hollering, and then filing out into the night with goofy smiles on our faces. It’s been too long since that’s happened.

Miscellaneous: Links

Forget the Internet and print-on-demand. A writer in China produces a novel distributed via text messaging. And how dumb do you have to be not to tip your waitress in a restaurant called Soprano’s?