Phone Booth (2003) Movie Review

“Phone Booth”, schedule for release in 2002, was delayed for about 5 months because of real-life events that took place in the States. I am referring to a string of sniper shootings in the D.C. area by a pair of killers for those of you who don’t know. Delayed until April 2003, Joel Schumacher’s “Phone Booth” runs for a tight 80 minutes, but it would be even less than that if you took out the opening and final credits. As a movie, “Phone Booth” is somewhere around 70 minutes in length, but here’s the really interesting part — according to the movie’s listing on, there is a 90 minute version and a 118 minute version out there somewhere.

“Phone Booth” is essentially “Speed” in a phone booth. Colin Farrell stars as Stu Shepard, a low-level publicist with delusions of being more. Stu is a fast-talker, a smooth operator and manipulator. As he confesses later in the film, he has no use for anyone who can’t help his career. Every day, at the same time, Stu goes to a phone booth in the middle of Manhattan to make a phone call to lovely young actress Katie Holmes, a naïve girl from Montana who has come to the Big Apple to “make it big”. Stu is attracted to her, and wants to sleep with her. Although married, Stu uses the phone booth because if he uses his cellphone his wife Kelly (Radha Mitchell) might notice his calls to the young and nubile Holmes.

Stu’s day takes a turn for the worst when he picks up a phone call immediately after hanging up with Holmes. At the other end of the line is a coarse voice warning Stu not to hang up the phone, or else the caller (Kiefer Sutherland) will kill him. To prove his point, the sniper shoots a pimp threatening Stu with a baseball bat. Soon, the police have been called in, and everyone (thanks to a trio of loudmouth skanky whores) think Stu killed the pimp. Worst, Stu becomes an instant media celebrity as his face is plastered on every TV in the city. In a way, the sniper’s actions has gotten Stu exactly what Stu has always wanted — everyone’s attention.

“Phone Booth” is a tight and taut suspense thriller. It moves so fast that like Stu, we barely have time to catch our breath. And just like that, the movie is over, leaving us wanting so much more. The screenplay was written by Larry Cohen, who has been writing Hollywood movies for twice as long as I’ve been alive. There’s nothing mind-blowing or insightful about the screenplay despite the sniper’s insistence that he’s trying to make Stu a better man, or that he’s trying to punish Stu for is inhumanity to his fellow man. The fact is, the sniper is just a cold-blooded maniac with a high-powered rifle and a high angle from which to shoot from.

Like “Speed”, “Phone Booth” is super slick and runs from beginning to end at a breakneck pace. The opening shot of Stu, walking briskly down the street yakking into his cellphone, is accompanied by a rush of dialogue that comes so fast it would take multiple viewings of the film just to know what he’s saying. And that’s the point. Stu is shallow, flashy, and completely dismissive of everyone else. His infidelity to his wife, his maneuvering of the young would-be-actress, all lends to the belief that such a foul situation couldn’t have happen to a better candidate.

Although Stu is a bastard of a human being, as the film progresses we feel for him. This is mostly due to Colin Farrell, who by my count was in 3 movies in 2002 (“Phone Booth”, “Minority Report”, and “Hart’s War”), and has already done 2 in 2003 (“The Recruit” and “Daredevil”), with more coming before the year is over. This guy makes Ekin Cheng look like a chump. The sympathetic cop that tries to rescue Stu is played by Forest Whitaker (“Panic Room”). Whitaker’s character has a backstory, but it’s irrelevant to the movie at hand. As is the case with all movies involving hostages, there’s a cop with a hair trigger battling to take over the sympathetic cop’s role. Needless to say, I could have done without the superfluous police bickering.

As the villain, Kiefer Sutherland (“Desert Saints”) is mostly a voice on the other end of the line. The screenplay does a terrific job of portraying the sniper as an unpredictable psychopath who seems to be enjoying himself tremendously. The sniper jerks Stu around, playing up Stu’s belief that he has all the angles covered. The result is a series of vastly entertaining exchange of dialogue between Stu, trying to figure out what’s happening to him, and the sniper playing along until he feels like pulling the rug under Stu.

“Phone Booth” is simply 80 minutes of pure thrill and adrenaline, all within the confines of a phone booth and a small stretch of city street. Joel Schumacher, known mostly as the man who murdered the “Batman” franchise with rubber nipples and bright sets, does an amazing job of keeping the film moving and energetic. The film uses the split screen technique popularized by the TV show “24” (starring Sutherland, natch) to show multiple locations going on at once. It works because it keeps our eye on Farrell trapped in the phone booth at all times.

Don’t expect anything spectacular with “Phone Booth”. Like “Daredevil”, “Phone Booth” works best when you ignore all the obvious questions, the plot holes, and what amounts to an ending only possible with dumb movie cops, while the movie is going on. There will be plenty of time for that later, unfortunately.

Joel Schumacher (director) / Larry Cohen (screenplay)
CAST: Colin Farrell …. Stu Shepard
Kiefer Sutherland …. The Caller (voice)
Forest Whitaker …. Capt. Ramey
Radha Mitchell …. Kelly Shepard
Katie Holmes …. Pamela McFadden

Buy Phone Booth on DVD