September 16, 2004


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Cellular is much more ambitious than its surfer hero entails. In its title and running time of 95 minutes, we see a fast-paced study of the art and use of cell phones in our current world while subsequently following Ryan (Chris Evans) through highway chases, airports, bank robberies, and gunpoint to help a lady (Kim Basinger) he has never even met before. Written by Larry Cohen, the same author behind last year’s Phone Booth, this film works oppositely in that its central character is on the phone running around town. Having attention deficit disorder, I found Mr. Cohen’s second script much easier to stay involved with.

Cellular is as funny as it is engaging. Its relaxed atmosphere is reminiscent of Point Break and its layers of plot, which are paced at a perfectly revealing tempo, matches Speed’s recipe for success. The movie plays out like a video game in its choppy development. Level 1: Answer the phone. Level 2: Decide to risk your life. Level 3: Jack a car, etc. Though it is cookie-cutter to some degree, Cellular’s ability to conceal substantial twists while still giving us just enough to stay interested makes the pay-off the interaction of characters instead of any specific overblown scene. We constantly transition between Ryan and his surfer friends to Jessica (Kim Basinger) locked in a basement and eventually to Officer Mooney (the amazing William H. Macy). Mooney, who’s quitting the force to work at a Day Spa with his wife, is essentially a middle-aged version of Ryan. Both are soft on the edges, yet they use their head to get out of bad situations and deeper into rescuing Jessica. The scene in which Mooney figures out that serious shit is going down while simultaneously wiping beauty cream off of his face hits a high note.

Easily the best character in the film, Basinger’s Jessica is a high school biology teacher who taps wires together off of a broken phone to inspire the entire story. The most memorable scene is when she kills one of her assailants by cutting his brachia with a knife. “I teach biology. The brachia pumps out 30 liters of blood in a minute, we only have five. I’m so sorry.” Such a humble combination of sincerity and resorting to her profession to save her life makes for a heroine worth cheering for.

In the end, Cellular knows its characters and limits very well. It does much more than any plot description or trailer would leave you to believe. The film makes only one big mistake and it has nothing to do with the movie itself. The taut and well-thought out thriller comes out only a month after Collateral, a movie extremely similar in concept only with a much bigger budget and a lot more star power. Cellular no doubt enters obscurity from the get-go. Still, this is a phone call worth answering.

3 1/2 Stars

Archived article by Dan Cohen
Red Letter Daze Staff Writer