Cellular (2004, USA, David R. Ellis) AKA Call Me Anytime
The cell phone is a piece of technology whose charm completely eludes me. I am admittedly somewhat phone-phobic, in that I will only answer the thing when placed under extreme duress (“I’m in the bathroom! Pick up the damn phone!”), so you may dismiss my concerns as those of a neurotic Luddite, but I’m not sure if it is the machine’s potential for insincerity of its intrusiveness that bothers me most. As for the former, I think it is the whole problem of not being able to look someone in the eye while they’re talking to you that gets to me most (this coming from an inveterate eye-dodging conversationalist, no less!). How are you supposed to be able to tell if your conversational partner is duping you if you can’t stare them down? I realize that I risk rationalizing myself into a pretzel, but the question may arise from those who know me, how can someone who is addicted to the electronic transmission of messages be so hung up on the fear of getting conned when (a) you most certainly can’t look your partner in the eye while engaged in an email conversation (b) that’s the essence of most of the junk we find in our inboxes every morning? But let’s just say that I simply prefer the realm of the written deception, domain of the poet and the philosopher, over that of the spoken con, purview of the used-car salesman and the politician, and leave it at that.
As for the latter complaint, I’m sure that one day soon the technicians in white lab coats will come and perform the necessary tests proving that I have heavy doses of the necessary bio-chemical elements or have been hard-wired in some uncontrollable and creepy genetic way that my form of semi-autistic and quasi-schizophrenic self-absorption (which I prefer to think of as a Zen state of concentration) is at the root of my detestation of the nerve-jangling ring of the telephone, but suffice it to say that there is no household sound that jars me out of my normal state of bliss more that this one. This could have been an “in” for me into Cellular, the newest thriller to hit the screen this late-summer, as the central character is a self-absorbed fella who is knocked out of the reverie of his life by a cell phone call from a complete stranger who begs him to help save not only her life and that also that of her son and hubbie, but unfortunately, this opportunity is squandered when, rather than hanging up and fleeing like a frightened bunny, like a normal human, he takes up her cause, and from this point on, the film completely loses me.
All right, so to summarize, in your humble narrator’s opinion, this incessant and ubiquitous cellular beast is a plague on all of our houses. So I confess that, given my stated prejudice against the titular technology, Cellular already had a strike against it before I crossed the theatre’s threshold. Further dampening my enthusiasm was the film’s creaky-sounding plot mechanism, which focused on a kidnapped woman miraculously managing to rewire a smashed up phone so she could contact a stranger on his cell phone, who then proceeds to rip the city apart in his effort to save her anonymous ass. However, as my fellow critic Scott Renshaw has been known to urge, you’ve got to grant the film its premise, so I tried my hardest not to pick nits with regards to the inanity of the story that this plot rests on, and turn my attention to the filmmaking, character and thematic developments instead. Alas, I still found myself distinctly unrewarded by the movie experience that is Cellular.
Fortunately, allowing a film it’s premise does not mean that a filmmaker can take advantage of our generosity and ignore the rules of the world he has created for him or herself. Turns out that this is precisely what director David R. Ellis, a former stuntman who has helmed a couple of sequels, including Final Destination 2, does so throughout this so-called thriller. At about the half-way point of Cellular, it became clear that there would be no redemption for those of shaky faith, and that there would be no interesting character developments or even the slightest hints of sub-textual material to distract me from the increasingly goofy storyline, so as the implausibilities began to dog-pile atop the improbabilities, I had no choice but to check outta this "thriller."
Cellular does move at a nicely brisk pace, and Evans certainly knows how to push one vehicle spectacularly up against another; however, William H. Macy, who plays a 27 year veteran of the police force who is bored of his job and contemplating a career change, is the only character given any depth or reality outside of the demands of the plot. Everyone else, including the charming and attractive Tom Cruise look-alike lead Chris Evans, proves to be little more than a tool of the next “surprise” twist. Instead of individuals, we are given an assemblage of recognizable faces, like Jason Statham (Snatch, Heist), who are familiar to us for playing specific character-types, so we don’t have to do much work to figure out who they are supposed to be. It’s paint by numbers characterization.
With the pesky issue of character development out of the way, Celllar becomes one giant game of that old TV game show Beat the Clock. While Macy's pretty good at playing this particular brand of well-meaning schmuck, and he brings an authenticity to Cellular that it doesn't deserve, the performances are uniformly uniform, a no one attempts to rise out of the cliches into which they are all dropped. Chris Evans has a charm and an appealing screen presence, but there's no character behind the pretty smile and sculpted body (this isn't Evans’ fault: there's no screenplay coming to his aid). Basinger is allowed to run the gamut of emotions from frightened to terrified, which is thankfully well within her range, but she's little more than a damsel in distress, a modern day Pauline in Peril.
Perhaps the fact that I'd just seen the similar-sounding Collateral, which showed us how a superior thriller can be constructed, I've appeared to come down a little hard on Cellular, but this proved to be one dull night in Thrillerville.