Sunday, October 7, 2012

Joel Schumacher, I Forgive You: "Phone Booth" (2003)

After directing two films that ended the "Batman" film franchise for a few years, Joel Schumacher dresses up a Larry Cohen script and turns in a great suspenseful thriller.

Stu (Colin Farrell), a role originally mentioned for Jim Carrey (yikes!), is a wheeler dealer PR guy pushing C-list celebs into A-list fame. His life revolves around lying. He uses a pay phone every day to call wannabe actress Pam (current Cruise vessel Katie Holmes), a girl he would rather sleep with without his wife Kelly (Radha Mitchell) finding out.

After calling Pam and promising her the moon all over again, Stu gets a new call at the title booth. It seems the Caller (Kiefer Sutherland, sounding like Vincent Price) has been watching Stu. He knows Stu's habits, he knows Stu's lies, and he knows how to use the high powered rifle aimed at Stu's head. Soon, the Caller begins playing God, trying to get Stu to admit past sins as earnest police captain Ramey (an always good Forest Whitaker) tries to keep the media crisis from resulting in more sniper death.

Larry Cohen's script recalls filmdom's pre-9/11 New York City. Stu is hassled by a bunch of obnoxious hookers before the Caller kills their pimp. The location is gritty and realistic, a New York City we have not seen onscreen in much too long.

Schumacher's direction is nothing short of genius. He does not show off with the camera, but keeps things rocketing along at a brisk (and brief eighty-three minute) pace. I have never been a fan of screenwriter Cohen, the scariest thing about the "It's Alive" series is its undeserved cult reputation, but his one good idea here turns great with the right cast and director.

While bad boy Farrell is better known for his private life shenanigans, he plays Stu flawlessly. Holmes and Mitchell are both good at wringing their hands and looking worried, and Whitaker is great as a smart cop trying to help Stu out. Sutherland deserves special mention for his voice work, he does bad with the best of them.

Most thrillers let the audience down at the climax after blowing its wad getting the suspense set up ("Breakdown" comes to mind). "Phone Booth" follows through to a supreme ending, and serves as a pleasant surprise. I highly recommend it, and I normally hate everything! (* * * * *) out of five stars.

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