A good few years ago I lived in a house where, for a while, we didn't have a phone installed.
And so every time I needed to make a call - normally in emergencies, to my family or the
takeaway or a chat line - I had to pop out and use a phone box. And I rapidly came to loath and
despise a certain class of users above all other - no, not the ones who wee on the floor, but
people who ring someone up and then get them to call them back in the booth! Thus enabling
them to hog the damn thing all night without worrying about running out of change!
This scourge of society has largely become a thing of the past what with everyone and their
dog (except me, it seems) having their own mobile phone, thus allowing them to annoy people in a
much wider range of locales, but it is nice to see them excoriated one last time in Joel
Schumacher's Phone Booth.
This is the cautionary tale of New York publicist Stu Shepard (Colin Farrell) who, when not
wheeling and dealing via his handheld, uses the city's last remaining phone booth to call his
girlfriend Pam (Katie Holmes) (his wife (Radha Mitchell) checks the mobile bills, y'see). But
one day someone (the unmistakeable dulcet tones of Kiefer Sutherland) rings Stu at the booth -
someone who's offended by his exploitative lifestyle and loose morals, and who's more than
happy to express his displeasure with the high-powered sniper's rifle currently trained on the
Phone Booth takes place almost entirely in real-time and is set in a single street. The
importance of the concept to the film, plus the presence of Sutherland, inevitably puts one in
mind of a certain TV series running along vaguely similar lines. But this isn't a cash-in on the
success of 24 - this movie was made a couple of years ago, prior to Sutherland's career
renaissance, and was delayed firstly by the Twin Towers disaster and then by the Washington
sniper. Looking on the bright side, though, the postponement has meant it cuts down further
still the already tiny number of weeks this year when a Colin Farrell movie isn't released
(given his astonishing ubiquity, it's a wonder the producers of X Men 2 didn't cast him
as Madrox the Multiple Man, but nobody's perfect).
This is pretty much a two-hander of a film, centring on Farrell's relationship with his
tormentor. And both actors are impressive: Farrell's initial dismissive ness towards the sniper
slowly shading into alarm and then outright terror, as his smooth facade cracks and shatters.
Sutherland is arguably even better, his voice dripping with malice and contempt. It's a showy
part (for all that he's unseen) and he gives it the right mix of credibility and flamboyance. Not
that there isn't good work being done amongst the supporting cast - Forrest Whittaker is a
reliable presence as a police captain trying to keep control of the situation, and Mitchell and
Holmes are both good as the women in Farrell's life.
But a film occurring within such a restricted locale and limited timeframe, and with such a
small cast, could easily become rather static and repetitive, and as such what success Phone
Booth achieves is down to the script and direction. Now I was never part of the 'Joel
Schumacher must die' lobby of the late 90s - Batman and Robin was bad, but not
that bad - but I've never been a great fan of his either. Here, though, he does a sterling
job, constantly finding new angles and techniques to keep the story interesting (his use of split
screen is another 24-ish touch). The same can be said for Larry Cohen's script - Cohen
has been a creator of inventively schlocky concepts for many years, including It's
Alive! and Q: The Winged Serpent - which sets up and runs with the concept with
Alas, however, the end of the film is a bit disappointing. Farrell does his considerable best
with the material he's given, but it still doesn't quite convince, and the end result is variously
schmaltzy, lacklustre, and predictable. A credibility gap looms large as loose ends go untied
and questions go unanswered. But in a film of this type the journey is the entertainment, not the
destination. The film doesn't outstay its welcome and for most of its (rather brief) running
time manages to be gripping and enjoyable. It's nice to find a Phone Booth that isn't
completely out of order.
As attentive masochists will recall, last week I promised to name-check the first person to
figure out the connection between Johnny English, Blue Crush, and the 1981 Eurovision
Song Contest. Well, there's been a bit of argy-bargy over who was actually the winner of this
and so as usual I have decided to display all the moral fibre of a sea cucumber: Greebo T Cat gets the award for being First Person to Post an
Answer even though it was entirely wrong (I think). Catwoman
gets the award for Most Educated Guesser. Useless Hound
(it's getting like animal hospital round here) gets the award for Services to Plain English. And
our editor Shazz gets the award for Actually Bothering To
Give The Right Answer. And with that, I'm off to lie down with my head in the fridge...