Jessica Martin (Kim Basinger) is violently kidnapped from her smart Brentwood, Los Angeles, home and taken to an isolated farmhouse, where she is locked in the attic, ignorant of her location. The extension phone is smashed, but the terrified Jessica fiddles with the wires to get a number - any number. The mobile (cellphone) she gets belongs to the irresponsible young Ryan (Chris Evans), who takes a minute to realise it's not a prank call: the woman at the other end has been kidnapped for reasons she can't even guess at, but they seem to want something from her real estate husband. Jessica pleads with Ryan to get help, but his attempts to inform a police officer (William H. Macy) at the station are foiled by circumstance and he has to dash off to the school where Jessica's 11 year old son is in danger of also being kidnapped, to force her to tell the kidnappers what they want to know. But Ryan is just an amateur up against these powerful professionals.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Your mobile rings and it's a hysterical woman claiming to have been kidnapped and pleading for your help. She doesn't know where she is being held captive, and within a few minutes you hear a man's gruff voice, she screams and you realise that it isn't a prank call.
Of course, if you're a young guy in the middle of picking up girls in Santa Monica, this would be an inconvenient interruption, but what can you do? You listen.
Larry Cohen's script for Phone Booth anchored Stu (Colin Farrell) to a public phone, pinned down by a mysterious gunman who had called the booth to snare him. With Cellular, Cohen has reshaped the basic premise of a character unable to hang up, and writer Chris Morgan has given it a wider setting; we're not stuck in one location, and the story is not told in real time...but almost. Nor is Joel Schumacher directing, but David R. Ellis does a decent job of maintaining the tension and the action. (A little bit of bad continuity with Kim Basinger's 'now you see it now you don't' scarf nothwithstanding.)
Morgan's screenplay just manages to hold its internal logic together and the best part of it is the mystery of what the kidnappers want; when that is revealed, it adds so much more grit to the script and to the whole premise. It also explains the identity of the kidnappers. So in storytelling terms, the script works well. Ellis, an experienced second unit director, tackles the action with confidence and builds plenty of dynamics into the film, making it a seamless example of this genre which Hollywood does so well.
Performances are solid all round, with Basinger making Jessica a real person not just a filmic device for our fears, and Chris Evans makes a likeable young action hero who makes it all up as he goes along. William H. Macy delivers his droll, honest policeman -with a retirement business plan - in credible style and the bad guys act mean, notably Jason Statham, who did a great job in The Transporter.
Review by Louise Keller:
Taking the concept of the cell phone to its limit, Cellular is a fast-paced thriller that never lets up. The idea of a stranger ringing their way into your life is an intriguing one, as is the concept of an ordinary person being driven to doing extraordinary things. Larry Cohen, who also penned Phone Booth, cleverly fleshes out the premise of a cell phone being the connection between two strangers, and takes it from there.
A regular 20 year old who hangs out at Santa Monica pier with his mates is speeding along the expressway, when his phone rings. But this is no ordinary wrong number. The distressed woman at the other end of the line quickly convinces him she has been kidnapped and he is her only connection to safety. The tension is created from the fear that the phone connection will be lost and we are caught up in all the obstacles. The low battery signal flashes its ominous sign, and Chris Evans' laid back Ryan battles bad drivers, road works and avoiding the oncoming traffic in a one way highway. Then there's the unexpected crossed line that suddenly drops into to the conversation, and we become elated by Ryan's quick-thinking response to the boorish blue Porsche driver. Necessity is the mother of invention as Ryan makes radical decisions. How can Ryan buy a phone charger in time, when the queue to be served is long and slow? What can he do to convince the driver in the next car to turn down her radio? What are the options when he has no car? Many of these situations are so familiar, and we relate to them all.
Cellular relies on Evan's energy as he realises that he is Jessica's only hope. He gets involved, and so do we. The casting is spot on, and Kim Basinger brings depth and density to Jessica, as she uses her science teacher skills to make loose phone wires connect. We feel her isolation and terror and are willing Ryan to save her. William H. Macy plays a conscientious cop on the verge of retiring to open a day-spa, and as always Macy is terrific. We even get to see him wearing a fruit-acid green face mask. Jason Statham (The Transporter) is also perfectly cast as the callous kidnapper - convincing and always intimidating.
Cellular uses communication technology beyond the cell phone. There's the walkie-talkie, the video camera as well as the phone's ability to record images and sound. The plot never lets up and we never have time to even wonder about some of the implausibilities. This is a true popcorn movie and you'll be glad you made the call.
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CAST: Kim Basinger, Chris Evans, William H. Macy, Eric Christian Olsen, Jessica Biel, Jason Statham, Richard Burgi, Eddie Driscoll, Eric Etebari, Adam Taylor Gordon
PRODUCER: Dean Devlin, Lauren Lloyd
DIRECTOR: David R. Ellis
SCRIPT: Larry Cohen, Chris Morgan
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Gary Capo
EDITOR: Eric A. Sears
MUSIC: John Ottman,
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jaymes Henckle
RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 10, 2005
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: April 7, 2005
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.