Phone Booth

April, 2003, Thriller

Directed by:Joel Schumacher

Starring:Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland, Forest Whitaker, Radha Mitchell, and Katie Holmes

B-movie impresario Larry Cohen wrote the screenplay for this gritty thriller directed by action-specialist Joel Schumacher, (Batman & Robin) who shot the film in 10 days on location, using that scabby section of 8th Avenue now home to the porno shops and sleazy emporia that used to call Times Square home. Cohen claims he first pitched the idea of a movie whose action takes place entirely in a phone booth to Alfred Hitchcock, who purportedly liked the idea. Whether that's true or simply Cohen's riff on the accuracy of entertainment publicists, this nasty little effort manages to sustain a nice sense of claustrophobic energy for almost all of its 87-minute running time. Male-hunk-of-the-moment Colin Farrell plays publicist Stuart Shepard, smooth of style and slippery of tongue, who uses a phone booth at 53rd St. and 8th Avenue in an attempt to hustle a young ingénue up to a sleazy hotel room and out of her clothes. (Why the phone booth instead of Stu's ever-present cell phone? So his wife can't check up on him by examining their monthly statement.) 

This blatant hypocrisy offends a psychopath who's been selecting his victims in mid-town and one day Stu gets an incoming call while in the booth from the killer who threatens to shoot Stu if (1) he hangs up and (2) if he fails to confess his infidelity to both wife and girl-friend. The director employs a split-screen to accompany Stu’s distress with sympathetic cop Forrest Whitaker, who tries to avoid turning this bizarre episode into a mid-town circus. The distinctively sinister voice of Keith Sutherland and a slick plot twist which involves a hidden pistol  permit Schumacher to sustain Cohen's one-note storyline by moving the action along with sufficient speed that the audience isn’t given sufficient time to deconstruct the story's implausibilities until a climax which unfortunately doesn't match the plot's basic premise. 

Despite some early scenes that allow Farrell to do his take on the role Tony Curtis made famous in the much better Sweet Smell of Success and an amusing bit involving hookers who want to use the phone booth to conduct "bidness", Cohen's script never tries for anything above the melodramatic. (The film was originally scheduled to be released last fall, but was held up due to the sniper attacks in Washington D.C.) Now that Farrell's a name has larger marquee value, this one will probably stay in theaters for a while, but waiting for the DVD release would better suit the content.  

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