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"Alright, buddy ... hang up the phone
and step out of the booth.  I've got a
baseball bat on the ground beside me,
and I'm not afraid to use it!"

Phone Booth
Review written by: Alex Sandell

Joel Schumacher has had a bad run lately.  At this point, it's beginning to resemble something more of a marathon.  It's fitting that the last good film the director made was 1993's, Falling Down.  Falling Down was the story of the ultimate angry white man, William Foster (Michael Douglas).  He was pissed off at minorities, fast food restaurant employees, traffic jams, gangbangers, and white men even angrier than himself.  The only person William Foster didn't seem to be ticked with was Prendergast (Robert Duvall), the retiring cop who would eventually spell out his demise. 

In Schumacher's latest film, Phone Booth, one doesn't have to stretch their imagination very far to imagine that Foster somehow came back from the dead, attempted to get himself a regular gig as a commentator on FOX NEWS, and then, upon finding out that he lost the job to Bill O'Reilly's malevolent twin brother, bought himself a sniper rifle and developed a sick fetish for people in telephone booths.  Like Prendergast and Batman before him, "The Caller" (Kiefer Sutherland), proves that, when it comes to boosting Schumacher's lagging career, nothing works quite like an angry white man (ironically enough, the same can be said for the daily ratings over at FOX). 

Phone Booth is about as bare bones and low budget as a slick mainstream thriller can get.  The movie is essentially egotistical New York publicist, Stu Shepard (Colin Farrell) pinned inside a phone booth by a guy with a Hannity-complex and a powerful rifle in his hand, rather than a microphone.  There's also a bustling city full of hookers, pimps, cops and reporters, but they're merely spectators to the main event - a guy talking on the phone.  Sound exciting?  To the credit of the film's writer, director, actors, and, quite possibly more than anything, editor, it actually is.    

Running just over an hour, the movie moves fast.  It actually seems to pride itself on keeping things simple.  Its script is smart enough to end before a drawn out and convoluted finale can wreck the entire thing. We aren't subjected to overlong car chases, elongated surprise returns by previously murdered bad guys, and/or the "2 months later" scene of redemption between key characters.  Nothing is tidily wrapped up for an audience whose expectations has declined to the point where they're disappointed if the film that they're watching this weekend isn't exactly like the movie they attended weekend last.  

That's not to say that the film isn't a crowd-pleaser.  Colin Farrell is excellent as Stu Shepard.  His performance as a conniving publicist with more ego than clients is engaging from beginning to end (outside of the moment that he turns into a gigantic baby).  Forest Whitaker puts a sympathetic character into the movie as the emotionally broken down Captain Ramey, reminding us that the actor is still a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood.  But it is Kiefer Sutherland, as the caller, that makes the film.  He creates a genuinely intimidating character with nothing more than his voice.  Sort of like a demonic telemarketer you can't hang up on.  Yikes. 

Phone Booth isn't a perfect film.  You never really care whether or not the dude stuck in the booth lives or dies, primarily due to the fact that he's introduced to us as being a gigantic prick.  The lack of sympathy the audience has in the lead character lessens the tension that should be felt throughout the picture. 

When the lead is finally put into a scene meant to gain the audience's empathy, it turns out to be a silly and over-the-top cry-baby flip-out moment.  The only thing the scene really succeeds in doing is to put the first, and only, crack in Farrell's otherwise exceptional artistic armor. Until this weak point in the film, I was wondering whether or not Farrell would possibly become the first man nominated for an Oscar for close-up work in a telephone booth. 

Minor complaints aside, Phone Booth is as entertaining as a movie about a couple of guys chatting on the phone can get.  It's escapist entertainment at its most pure.  The film has a raw energy that doesn't let up.  Turn off the 24 hour propaganda channel, head to the theater and have a good time with an angry white man, for a change.  Republican or Democrat, you'll consider Phone Booth to be a wild ride at the box office, and the first "can't miss" flick of 2003. 

On a scale of 1-10?

8

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Text (Copyright) 2002 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].