You never know when the voice of God is going to hit. Maybe it never will. But if it does, how do you think the conversation would go? If you’re like Stu (Colin Farrell), a sleazy public relations man who can’t even pass the truth to a mirror, you might have a bit of explaining to do. Or maybe a lot. Or maybe you couldn’t care less so you don’t do any explaining.
Joel Schumacher’s Phone Booth is a modern morality tale complete with Kiefer Sutherland as God’s voice. Okay, so he’s a sniper on the other end of the phone, but with the things he says and the stereo sound he might as well be the Almighty. Stu’s day begins like any other. You know, pass some lies, create buzz for his wannabe celebrity clients, check the time on his fancy watch. By his demeanor, Stu might very well be Campbell Scott’s long-lost sleazebag brother in Roger Dodger. After all, Phone Booth does open with Stu showing the ropes to his young assistant á la Uncle Rog’ does in Dylan Kidd’s largely overlooked 2002 debut. But then the phone rings and Stu’s life is about to change. God, er, some psychopath sniper with a thing against immoral people is on line one.
Phone Booth is a nifty little experiment that pits 99 percent of the film on a single city block and 90 percent of that is inside of a phone booth (hence the title). Sitting on the corner of a run down part of inner city New York, the phone booth in question is surrounded by tall skyscrapers so large the even keep the amount of direct sunlight to a minimum. Combine that with Schumacher’s use of gritty handheld cameras, bleached film and shaky movements and you’ve got something not for the claustrophobic. This, along with the red dot pointed at his chest increase the feeling of Stu’s helplessness. It’s like when God speaks, you have to listen. There’s no escape from it.
The movie comes in at a slick 80 minutes. Schumacher gets in and gets out. This allows for the intensity to begin in minutes and it never lets up. Between the inclusion of Sutherland in the cast, the occasional split-screen shots and the real-time aspect of most of the story, Phone Booth feels a lot like a stand-alone episode of TV’s 24. Action is always in motion, little is predictable and you’re sucked in for every thrilling second of it. It’s hard to believe the guy who brought us the dreadful and sluggish Batman and Robin is the one who directed it.
Phone Booth re-teams Schumacher with Farrell. They first worked together in 2000’s Tigerland. Although I have been a little leery of all the buzz surrounding Farrell’s rising star (it sounds a lot like the gossipy crap Stu tries to pass off as buzz), there really is something to this guy’s appeal beyond his looks. He’s got an energy about him that is hard to explain but you know it’s ‘it.’ The script makes you hate Stu’s character, but Farrell’s arc that begins with pompous arrogance and shifts to the other end of the spectrum in the blink of an eye is believable without being over the top. He plays the one end with confidence and the other like a puppy peeing all over himself during its first go around with fourth of July fireworks.
There are times when the morality play plays out a little too much. Sutherland’s dialogue comes off as preachy and occasionally takes away from the intensity. He scolds Stu’s ways too much and finds himself repeating the same faults several times. We know Stu’s not the nicest guy. Stu knows it too. But the again nobody’s perfect.
I went into Phone Booth expecting something intense but gimmicky. That was fine by me. But I was happy to get something more, something with a point, something with a vision. It’s nice to see Schumacher changing pace from a typical action movie. Sure, the movie will please those looking for a nifty little piece of action, but it will also impress those whose feelings for Schumacher were permanently jaded following his two takes on the Batman franchise or 2002’s Bad Company.
Phone Booth Gallery