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Friday, April 4, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

Colin Farrell gets trapped in gimmicky 'Phone Booth'

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review


**
"Phone Booth," with Colin Farrell, Forest Whitaker, Katie Holmes, Kiefer Sutherland, Radha Mitchell. Directed by Joel Schumacher, from a screenplay by Larry Cohen. 81 minutes. Rated R for pervasive language and some violence. Several theaters.

Joel Schumacher's new film is, above all, a gimmick, but not a bad one as gimmicks go. A sleazebag publicist named Stu (Irish actor Colin Farrell, doing a mysterious American accent that sounds vaguely Eurotrashy) answers a ringing phone in a New York phone booth, only to find himself talking to a sniper (Kiefer Sutherland) who threatens to shoot him if he hangs up. Cops are called in; hookers, panhandlers and miscellaneous New Yorkers pass by; and Stu stays in that phone booth, which becomes a sort of confessional as Stu gradually realizes — who knew? — that his life is shallow and that he should have been nicer to people.

"Phone Booth" isn't much as a morality tale — which is just as well; there's probably not much box-office potential to something that could be subtitled "The Prodigal Publicist." Rather, it's cinematic flash, tarted up with gritty gray-blue lighting and gimmicky photography; at times, its split-screen action feels like trying to watch several movies at once (a point Schumacher underscores by cutting away, at one point, to a bank of TVs in a store window). Cheesy as this may be, it's a tribute to Schumacher that he can wring actual tension out of footage of a guy standing in a phone booth, and to Farrell that we care — somewhat — about whether Stu will emerge unscathed.

Other characters flit in and out of the story: There's cute, dimpled Katie Holmes as the woman Stu's romancing, a worried-looking Radha Mitchell as the woman Stu's actually married to (hence the worried look), and the ever-sturdy Forest Whitaker as the whip-smart police officer assigned to defuse the situation. But it's Farrell's movie to carry, while barely taking a step; and while he oozes charisma and barely contained fireworks (as in his small role in "Daredevil," you get the sense that there's a far more interesting story that he's not telling), he may have been given an impossible task.

The phone booth, a species rapidly becoming extinct (it's a running joke in the film that Stu's booth is the last one left in Manhattan), is an odd anomaly — isolation in a crowd. In the days of cellphones — and "Phone Booth" begins with a montage of them — it's almost quaint to think that someone would want privacy for a conversation. As Stu's booth becomes a cell in which he confronts himself, with the sniper's stentorian tones issuing from the receiver like the voice of God (or, at least, like a voice-over spokesman), "Phone Booth" becomes simultaneously too big and too small. Farrell's star presence aside, it's the film equivalent of a flash-in-the-pan, but, at 81 minutes, at least it doesn't overstay its welcome.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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