Even the most paranoid fantasies have to make sense at some level, and this one just doesn’t.
The premise is all right. Colin Farrell plays Stu, whose job is Hollywood’s favorite indicator of utter corruption — he’s a publicist. We meet him walking down the street, his intern trotting beside him, handing him pre-dialed cell phones so he can keep up a continuous loop of shmoozing, badgering, lying, and manipulating his various clients, sources, and outlets — including a pretty would-be actress named Pam (Katie Holmes), a tasty prospect for both business and pleasure.
But Stu doesn’t want to call Pam from the cell phone because his wife sees the bills. So he stops in the last phone booth in Manhattan, which turns out to be a very big mistake.
The phone rings, and Stu answers. The man on the other end (Kiefer Sutherland) tells him that he has a rifle pointed at Stu, and that he will shoot him if he hangs up or tells anyone about it. He seems to know all about Stu, his wife Kelly (Rhada Mitchell), and Pam. When a pimp comes after Stu because his girls want to use the phone, the sniper shoots him, and the police, led by Captain Ramey (Forrest Whitaker), think Stu did it. Stu is surrounded by police with guns pointed at him, both Pam and Kelly are there, and the sniper will not let him get off the phone.
This film is based on a short student film and was shot in just 12 days. It’s a Hollywood film that is trying for the vibe — and the indie cred — of a smaller film. Just as “The Blair Witch Project” made its liability (no money) into an asset (making it look as though the footage was from a student film), this movie tries to have Stu’s confinement in the phone booth shape both the story and its impact. While it does create a lot of tension and Farrell and Whitaker are always great to watch, the movie feels manipulative and padded. The “Who do you think you are?” sign behind Stu and the “I’ll never lie again and will show the proper respect” climax are heavy-handed and pretentious and the attempted twist at the end is heavy-handed and predictable. Farrell, usually impeccable with American accents, completely misses in his attempt to sound like an upwardly mobile guy from the Bronx.
Parents should know that the movie has extreme and intense peril and violence. Characters are killed without provocation and there are references to other murders. Characters smoke and use very strong language and there are references to adultery (or the wish to commit adultery).
Families who see this movie should talk about what the characters are likely to do next. How will Stu change?
Families who enjoy this movie might also enjoy some other phone-centered thrillers like “Sorry Wrong Number” and “Dial M for Murder” and a brilliant movie about the relationship between a corrupt publicist and an even more corrupt columnist, “The Sweet Smell of Success.”