Patrick McGinlay's Internet Tendency

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May 21, 2003

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I went into this film expecting to hate it. I had already lined up my anti-Hollywood conveyor belt thriller rant and my anti-Colin Farrell rant and my anti-Schumacher rant, which is really little more than a curse-filled critique of Batman and Robin.

In the first 2 - 3 minutes of the film, I smirked as my worst criticisms started to manifest themselves on screen. The usual shenanigans -- whiz bang electrical gizmos flying across the air in staccato images, as if to say "Look at how nifty (yet sinister) the 21st century is! IRONY!!!!!!!"

Unfortunately for cynics everywhere, the initial promise displayed by the first few minutes of the film -- that it's going to be another crass piece of garbage ripe for the picking -- fails to materialize: Phone Booth is an above average, compact thriller that manages to tell the whole story in a slim 90 minutes. It's a near perfect antidote to the recent slew of sequels and epics that moviegoers have had to wade through in the past 2 years.

The story is simple enough- New York jerk Stu Sheppard (played quite capably by real life jerk Colin Farrell) is a fast talking media publicist. We watch as he makes his way through a busy New York neighborhood, skinny toady in tow. He's on his cell phone, making deals, busting balls, doing the stuff that jerks do. He stops to make a call to an aspiring actress he wants to bed (Katie Holmes, who is very good looking).

After he hangs up, the public phone he has used to make his clandestine call (we are told this is the last private phone booth in New York, as it is soon to be replaced by a phone kiosk) starts to ring. He instinctively picks it up, and the spooky, psychotic voice on the other end (the brilliant Kiefer Sutherland, who has the most impact of all the cast despite only showing his face for once scene right at the end of the flick) tells him not to leave, tells him he knows all about him, and tells him he has an automatic rifle aimed at his head that he's willing to use if Stu hangs up.

Hookers want to use the phone, though, and after a brief scuffle with a large pimp, Stu is trapped -- Mr. Psycho Man has shot large pimp, and now the cops want him to come out of the phone booth, thinking Stu is the killer. The afternoon unfolds with Mr. Psycho caller man playing mindfuck games with Stu, while confused, sympathetic cop (Forest Whitaker, in a role that barely taxes him) slowly pieces together the situation. Throw into the mix Stu's wife, Kelly (Radha Mitchell, also good looking) and we have our story. By the end of the film, Mr Psycho man gets Stu to confess to just about everyone what a big, phony jerk he is.

Why Colin Farrell insists on portraying himself as such a cock to the media is beyond me. He alienates a lot of cynical people with his scruffy, tough guy image, despite the public knowledge that he's the well to do son of a famous Irish soccer player and that he went to the poshest schools in Dublin. He's really quite talented. He should play up his whole "talented actor" schtick and drop the whole "strutting rich boy who thinks he's tough" schtick.

Joel Schumacher does what Jerry Bruckheimer can't in this movie -- he avoids insulting the intelligence of the audience. There's no Armageddon-style uber-jingoism, and there's no Enemy of The State hyper-paranoia. There's an underlying theme relating to the loss of privacy in today's world, and it skirts a higher message regarding substance over image, but it plays them with admirable restraint. No sappy backstories either -- Forest Whitaker's Captain Ramey is obviously coming down from a bad divorce, but it's barely touched upon. Not a single flashback or soft edged shot slows down the pace, and there are no power ballads.

I seriously doubt this movie will do much at the box office, which is a shame because it deserves attention. The buzz has been pretty low, but I reckon it'll have a good afterlife on video/cable.

Phone Booth: **** (out of 5)
Speed: ***
Die Hard 3: **1/2


Stars: Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland, Katie Holmes
Release Date: May 22, 2003
Rated: M
Running Time: 90 minutes
Showing: General release


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