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


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