"Cellular" has all the earmarks of a genuinely smart thriller rewritten by a studio-lapdog script doctor who was told it didn't have enough car chases and comic relief.
As originally conceived by Larry Cohen ("Phone Booth"), the film makes cunning use of the titular technology in its plot that follows an aimless beach dude (utterly bland buff-boy Chris Evans) whose cell phone is on the receiving end of a desperate call for help from a kidnapped woman (Kim Basinger). By tap-tap-tapping together the wires of a smashed old rotary phone, she's managed to dial his number at random from the attic where she's being held.
Disbelieving at first, Evans ("Not Another Teen Movie") is soon robbing a cell phone store for a charger (his battery is low) and stealing cars to drive like Andretti through downtown Los Angeles, trying to beat the bad guys to Basinger's son and husband (it's him they're really after) so he can save the day.
The movie's otherwise terrific tension is undermined by such overblown action, and by a distracting deluge of cheap laughs (a leathery middle-aged white woman playing loud hip-hop on her car stereo, etc.), and by the many occasions on which either Evans or the kidnappers (led by charismatic tough-guy Jason Statham) have to do something stupid to keep the story moving.
Basinger is mostly relegated to screaming and crying, while Evans' character uses the bells and whistles on his mobile phone (call logs, video captures, etc.) in truly resourceful ways to outwit the kidnappers -- who prove to be dangerous in startling ways that plausibly exclude our hero going to the police. (After attempts to do so meet ill-fated results, however, one cop, played by William H. Macy, follows his instincts to his own perilous discoveries.)
Unfortunately, director David R. Ellis ("Final Destination 2") and first-time screenwriter Chris Morgan (credited with the drafts after Cohen's) miss the boat on so many other plot blunders (e.g., an implied blackmail subplot that is never resolved) that the picture threatens to collapse if given any measure of scrutiny. It's a pity because somewhere inside "Cellular" there's a snappy Hitchcockian B-movie struggling to get out.
Run time: 94 mins
In Theaters: Friday 10th September 2004
Box Office USA: $32.0M
Box Office Worldwide: $32M
Distributed by: New Line Cinema
Production compaines: New Line Cinema
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 55%
Fresh: 81 Rotten: 67
IMDB: 6.5 / 10
Director: David R Ellis
Starring: Chris Evans as Ryan, Kim Basinger as Jessica Martin, Jason Statham as Ethan, Jessica Biel as Chloe, William H. Macy as Sgt. Bob Mooney, Will Beinbrink as Young Security Guard, Valerie Cruz as Dana Bayback, Brenda Ballard as Irate Customer #1, Caroline Aaron as Marilyn Mooney, Chase Bloch as Timid Boy, Chelsea Bloch as Surf Girl's Friend, Chantille Boudousque as Chloe's Chilly Friend, Robin Brenner as Excitable Customer, Richard Burgi as Craig Martin, Paige Cannon as Girl at Concert, Nikki Christian as Porsche Girl, John Churchill as Young Guard, Greg Collins as Aging Security Guard
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