Somebody get Larry Cohen a movie he can call his own — please!
The genial exploitation schlockmeister behind It’s Alive!, The Stuff, Q: The Winged Serpent and The Ambulance keeps coming up with scripts and concepts that would no doubt have turned out better had Cohen himself directed them. First there was Phone Booth and now we have its companion piece, Cellular. Joel Schumacher made a pretty good film out of the former and now director David R. Ellis has made an OK movie from the latter.
The fact that Cohen only takes story credit for Cellular — the screenplay is attributed to newcomer Chris Morgan — perhaps accounts for the reason that it’s merely OK. Cohen certainly worked on a screenplay (while he was hawking Phone Booth), but it apparently wasn’t used. The spirit of the piece, however, is pure Cohen.
The film’s basic premise — a man stuck on a cell phone as the only possible lifeline for a kidnap victim — is the sort of thing real Cohen movies thrive on. Even the advertising catchphrase for Cellular (“If the signal dies, so does she”) is exactly what would festoon a bona fide Cohen film. The problem with this movie as it stands is that where Cohen would have bulldozed his way through its myriad improbabilities — OK, the man ain’t subtle — Ellis and Morgan just ignore them and hope viewers won’t notice.
Sometimes this works. We don’t really care that the chief kidnapper (Jason Statham) would more realistically just yank the phone off the wall of his victim’s makeshift prison rather than ponderously leave the room and trudge back with a sledgehammer to smash it. Hey, it’s just more dramatic! And we may not care that victim Jessica Martin (Kim Basinger) apparently dresses in chic, black, cocktail-party clothing to teach her high-school science class. For that matter, it may not trouble us too greatly that she obviously knows that a rotary phone works on a series of clicks, such that she could have easily clicked 911 when she pieces the smashed phone back together, rather than hitting a random number and getting the relentlessly callow Ryan (Chris Evans, Not Another Teen Movie) on the line.
After all, without this, there’s no film. And this is exactly the kind of movie that operates on movie logic; things happen in a manner they only could on the Big Screen. In this particular movie world, schoolteacher Jessica and her real-estate-agent husband (Richard Burgi, Decoys) aren’t rich, but nonetheless live in a huge Brentwood home worthy of Architectural Digest.
The problem with movie logic is that it glosses over a lot of sins, but it doesn’t cover lapses in its own structure. And for a film of this sort to truly work, it has to stay true to its own rules. Cellular doesn’t.
I can accept that the movie plays fast and loose with the way cell phones operate. But if a cell phone won’t work in a stairwell in one scene, it damned well better not work in another just a bit later. It’s moments like this that undermine Cellular. Plus, the ending is too protracted — to the degree that even at a brisk 89 minutes, the movie feels a bit padded.
Director Ellis does a good enough job; the film’s action scenes are very reminiscent of his Final Destination 2. And yet he never seems exactly inspired. The actors who are given something to do — notably Basinger, Evans and the always-reliable William H. Macy — manage to make the most of the material, while the rest of the cast is just there. Jason Statham (who really ought to be doing better things after Snatch and The Transporter) is reduced here to the level of glowering psychotic, while Jessica “Still Looking for That Career” Biehl is little more than window dressing as the girl who dumps the hero at the beginning of the movie. There is, however, something apt about Eric Christian Olsen, the co-star of Dumb and Dumberer, spending most of the movie dressed up in a whale suit. It adds exponentially to his sincerity.
As a really mindless action-movie, Cellular‘s not bad. It’s even moderately diverting. But it’s certainly nothing to call home about.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke