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"I know it's hard to believe, but I'm pretty sure I just drove through a shit storm."


Cellular
(R, 92 min.)
Wide Release

Thursday, September 09, 2004
Copyright © Las Vegas Mercury

Cellular

Fast-moving Cellularphones in character development

By Anthony Del Valle

Cellular is a one-gimmick movie, and if the gimmick intrigues you, you may have a good time.

The Chris Morgan screenplay from a story by Larry Cohen (directed by David R. Ellis) recalls a score of other films, from 1965's The Slender Thread to Cohen's 2002 Phone Booth script. Only this time it's Kim Basinger instead of Anne Bancroft or Colin Farell, and the communications devices are a tad more high-tech.

It doesn't take long for the action to kick in. Jessica Martin is a high school teacher dropping off her son (Adam Taylor Gordon) at a bus stop. We know right away something terrible is going to happen, because the son, after seating himself on the bus, calls out to his mother to wave a second goodbye. Whenever adorable children are seen giving a parent an extra hug at the beginning of a movie, you can be certain one of them is, at the very least, about to get the shit beat out of them.

Sure enough, moments after Jessica is comfortable inside her nice Brentwood home, men break in, kill the housekeeper and kidnap our heroine. (It's a mistake to have the action begin so quickly. While the guns are popping, audience members with freshly bought popcorn are likely to be still climbing over each other in search of the best seats.)

Jessica has a bit of luck, however. Even though the bad guy has taken an ax to the wall phone hanging in the attic where our victim is being held, Jessica is able to rub some wires together and get the thing working. (Moral: If you're going to ax up a phone, make sure you've really broken it.) She can't dial or anything (after all, it was a sharp ax), but is able to make random contact with someone's cell phone. Winds up it belongs to a young man named Ryan (Chris Evans) who's just been bawled out by his ex-girlfriend (Jessica Biel) on the Santa Monica Pier for being lazy and unreliable.

It takes a while for Ryan to take the call seriously, but he soon slips into gear in an effort to save the lady; especially when he finds out the bad guys are going to wipe out the woman, her husband (Richard Burgi) and the adorable kid. Trouble is, he has no idea where Jessica is being held, and neither does she. He enlists the aid of about-to-retire desk sergeant Bob Mooney (William H. Macy), who at first seems more concerned about the beauty shop he and his wife are about to open. But Mooney proves a decent sort (as Macy characters often do) and he joins in the chase.

The big question, of course, is how long can Jessica stay on the phone without getting caught? How long will the battery on Ryan's phone remain powered? Now that the killers are aware of who Ryan is, can this "lazy" and "unreliable" slacker hold his own?

The writers throw in a fair number of plot twists and humor so that things bump along fairly harmlessly. Jason Statham is an enjoyably sadistic head villain. Macy's an earnest-looking good guy. And Evans proves himself a capable leading man.

The film misses out simply because the characters are not written strongly enough for us to care about them. Ryan is supposed to be our Walter Mitty character, yet the writers don't even think to show us the big payoff scene where his ex-girlfriend realizes what a hero her man really is. That kind of sloppiness permeates the screenplay. The editing and cinematography are uninspired.

The movie has a primitive appeal, but you have to do a lot of forgiving and forgetting to let it work on you.


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