Cellular (2004) Movie Review

(Movie Review by Donnie Saxton) “Cellular” is a telephonic thriller that finds Chris Evans (Johnny Storm aka The Human Torch in the upcoming big budget “Fantastic Four” film) assuming the role of an anonymous white knight called to action by a mechanically inclined damsel in distress (Kim Basinger). According to reports, the film was to originally begin filming in early 2001 with a different cast. No doubt the cellphone product placements are dramatically different as well, as Evans sports a credit card sized videophone instead of the toaster oven with buttons he surely would be lugging around just 3½ years ago.

At the outset we find Jessica Martin (Basinger) depositing her 11-year-old son Ricky (yes, that’s Ricky Martin) on a school bus. The scene gushes with sappy maternalism and we can’t help but deduce that something terrible is about to happen. The foreshadowing slaps you in the face when little Ricky throws mom a last sentimental wave as if he’s going to federal prison. Director David Ellis (“Final Destination 2”) wastes no time getting the pieces in place as he forces the “thrill” of a Hollywood thriller upon us. Before the credits are over Jessica finds herself kidnapped at gunpoint and then locked in an attic while her maid lies dead on the kitchen floor.

Fortunately for the plot, the only significant object in the attic is a functioning telephone. Jessica’s main captor, played by Jason Statham (“The Transporter”), shatters the phone with a baseball bat and issues instructions that if she doesn’t tell him where her husband is, she is going to die. When Jessica is finally left alone she resurrects what’s left of the phone and manages to reach Evans’ character, Ryan, randomly on his cell. After some initial skepticism he agrees to take her call to a police officer. For a variety of reasons, some less believable than others, that notion fails and Ryan is soon enlisted in a half day’s work of thwarting homicidal kidnappers and attempting to save the day while receiving instructions from a woman he’s never seen on the other end of a phone line.

Predictably, Ryan’s efforts to save Jessica and Ricky thrust him into a variety of less than routine events, including holding up a cellphone store in search of a charger and doing some off-roading in a Geo Metro (don’t try this at home). Ryan also gets to steal a Porsche from an overpriced, insufferable, and bloodsucking lawyer, which is fun for the whole family.

The bulk of “Cellular” is a two-person drama between Jessica and Ryan while they attempt to figure their way out of the fix before Jessica’s captors run out of patience. Basinger and Evans tackle a variety of emotions simultaneously onscreen albeit from two ends of a phone line. Both actors are thrown into rather conventional roles, but Basinger (“8 Mile”) makes the best of it while Evans struggles to keep up with her.

At first the movie is coy about the true motives of the kidnappers and only allows us to know that their purpose has to do with something Jessica’s husband didn’t tell her. I dare not reveal too much, but the husband’s secret is more than what it seems — unlike real life, when a husband’s secret from his wife is usually exactly what it seems.

The remaining screentime is dominated by Stratham’s character and a subplot involving William H. Macy (“Panic”) as a police officer ready to retire from the force before getting involved in this one last case. Macy has spent half of his career rising above the material he is given and “Cellular” is no exception. As for Stratham, there may be no one more qualified to play a tough talking badass, but listening to him say his lines induced a bit of hilarity. More than once he seemed to find difficulty hiding his accent; a couple of times I thought he was going to switch nationality right there onscreen.

What “Cellular” lacks in originality and suspense it makes up for with car chases, gunfights and a plot that unfolds with breakneck speed. It definitely has an audience out there, and you know who you are. At least they got the scene in the cellphone store right. Ellis pumps the employees with exactly enough attitude and condescension while packing the place with enough customers that I felt cramp, even though there were only two other people in the theater with me. The audience will immediately recognize the numbness of taking a number and being suspended endlessly in strip mall purgatory.

In the end, there is not much new here to add to the genre. Conventional thrillers come and go in a variety of disguises, and “Cellular” is barely disguised at all as a 93-minute Nokia commercial. Nokia couldn’t even let the movie fade into its own mediocrity without taking one more shameless shot at the consumer. After the last line of dialogue is spoken, the entire ending credits appear on the face of a Nokia cell phone with the brand name clearly visible.

David R. Ellis (director) / Larry Cohen (story), Chris Morgan (screenplay)
CAST: Kim Basinger …. Jessica Martin
Chris Evans …. Ryan
William H. Macy …. Mooney
Eric Christian Olsen …. Chad
Jessica Biel …. Chloe

Buy Cellular on DVD