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Phone Booth (Joel Schumacher) 2002

   

    Not nearly great, but much better than expected, Joel Schumacherís thriller Phone Booth hews closely throughout to its high-concept premise and is the better for it. Clocking in at just over 80 minutes, it has no time for silly subplots or much unnecessary sentimentality, and its narrative leanness seems completely refreshing in this age of action movie that pile on climax after climax, ostensibly in an effort to give the audience more bang for their buck. After roughly fifteen minutes of setup, the movie gets locked into its single, titular locale, but never has a chance to grow boring after it does so. Colin Farrell delivers a solid performance as Stuart Shepard, a sleazy publicist straight out of the classic noir Sweet Smell of Success. By the time heís locked into the titular (and anachronistic) New York City phone booth where a psychoís devious game of cat and mouse plays out, the movieís deftly created a laundry list of enemies that could be his smooth-voiced stalker (I was placing my bets on Robin Williams, given the year heís had). Heís almost always on screen, and itís his undeniable charisma (which has been almost absent since he last worked with Schumacher in the stellar Tigerland) that carries the movie.

   

    Sure, Phone Booth has a somewhat corny absolution scene at the end and a few of the visual gags (the robot and the initial CGI zoom, for example) are a tad overdone, but mostly Schumacherís direction, which uses split screens well and has a garishly exaggerated sense of city life, serves the script. His satiric digs, like the appearance of an Eminem-style white rapper or a gag about an actressís audition material, flit on screen quickly, then move away before wearing out their welcome. The movieís pacing never flags (that would probably be more of a feat with a film this sort than if it had), and the level of tension noticeably escalates, he never overplays his hand. Most of the disappointments in Phone Booth are minor ones. For example, itís disappointing that the antagonist turns out to be so sanctimonious. The filmís attempts to make his menace extend beyond the confines of the movie screen fail miserably, since nothing in Phone Booth bear any resemblance to the real world. Taken as a straightforward, populist popcorn movie, though, you could do a lot worse than this. Itís a clean, effective thriller. Worth mentioning also, is the filmís budget. Made for the bargain-basement level price of $1.5 million, digital effects and all, it shows economy doesnít necessarily preclude Hollywood-level action film thrills. I honestly would have guessed it cost an amount about ten or twenty times higher.

 

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09-20-02 

Jeremy Heilman