I often receive phone calls from friends who are standing outside multiplexes trying to decide which movie to see. They have eliminated the ones they’ve already seen and the ones that don’t have a start time that fits their schedule, and now they’re left with two or three options from which they’d like me to help them choose.
“Cellular” is a good movie for that situation. Should you buy tickets in advance for “Cellular”? No. Should you plan your schedule around “Cellular”? Heavens no. But if you’ve seen everything else, and if you’re standing outside the theater at 7:10 and there’s a showing of “Cellular” at 7:20, then by all means, go ahead and see “Cellular.”
It’s implausible, every minute of it, and often outrageously stupid. (Good thing there’s a dirt road leading to a cell-phone store at the VERY MINUTE he needs a charger!) But golly, it’s kinda fun sometimes, and a few parts are funny on purpose. (Many other parts are funny accidentally.)
It gets right down to business: Within moments of the film’s beginning, wife/mother/science teacher Jessica Martin (Kim Basinger) is kidnapped from her Los Angeles home by five men who clearly mean business, since they shoot her housekeeper without asking questions. Jessica is taken to a ranch house somewhere and locked in an upstairs room — a room that happens to have a phone. The lead bad guy, Greer (Jason Statham), smashes it with a sledgehammer, but since Jessica is a science teacher — the film keeps putting her in situations where this fact is useful — she is able to splice wires together and place a call to a random number.
The number belongs to Ryan (Chris Evans), a college-age dude who has just this very moment been told by his ex-girlfriend that he’s selfish and irresponsible. What do you know, he then gets a desperate call on his cell phone from a woman who says she’s been kidnapped and needs help. I’ll show that ex-girlfriend of mine who’s unselfish and irresponsible! is what he’s thinking now.
He goes to the police station and gives some basic information to Sgt. Mooney (William H. Macy), a 27-year veteran who’s about to open a day spa with his wife. Alas, there are some plot contrivances that prevent Ryan from getting his cell phone with Jessica still on the line to a detective, but we can guess Sgt. Mooney will become involved anyway, since he’s played by William H. Macy and why else would he be in the movie?
Much of the film consists of Ryan driving frantically from one place to another, trying to prevent the kidnappers from reaching Jessica’s husband and son. He is aided in this by a series of astounding coincidences: Take all the astounding coincidences out of this movie and you have a two-page screenplay about a woman who gets kidnapped, has no access to a phone, and dies.
I don’t get why Kim Basinger would take this role. It allows her to do nothing but whimper into a phone for 90 minutes; surely she realizes this is not stretching her acting muscles. Macy, on the other hand, classes up any joint he walks into, and you can tell he’s a better actor than the movie deserves. Chris Evans — meh, whatever. He does what’s required of him.
The screenplay, by first-timer Chris Morgan, is based on an earlier draft by Larry Cohen, who wrote last year’s “Phone Booth.” Obviously the guy’s got a phone thing. The director is David R. Ellis, a stuntman, second-unit director and occasional lead director (“Final Destination 2”) who deserves credit for making this thing zip along almost fast enough for you not to notice how dumb it is. Almost.
C (1 hr., 34 min.; )