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Phone Booth Review

By Shawn McKenzie 04/04/2003

I had been excited to see Phone Booth ever since it was supposed to be released last November.  As you may or may not recall, this movie was pulled because its studio, 20th Century Fox, thought it might offend or traumatize moviegoers with its portrayal of a sniper threatening someone.  Last October was the month that the sniper crisis went on in Maryland and Virginia.  Even though the snipers were caught before its target release date, they figured it was a little too fresh in the public’s mind.  I still think the studios underestimate the sensitivities of the American public, but que sera sera.  Anyway…it is here now, and I guess you could say it was worth the wait.


Stu Shepard (Colin Farrell) is a New York publicist who does most of his business over the phone.  He is a slick, fast-talking guy who can sweet talk almost anyone into doing what he wants, which includes telling many lies to business associates, friends, and family.  After getting his flunkie intern Adam (Keith Nobbs) to run some errands, he stops at a phone booth to call his girlfriend, an aspiring actress named Pamela McFadden (Katie Holmes), so that his wife, Kelly (Radha Mitchell), won't see the call to her on his cell phone bill.  It is a call that he makes everyday, but on this day, it was a mistake.  As he is talking to Pam, a pizza guy (Dell Yount) comes to his booth and tries to give him an already-paid-for pizza.  After annoyingly paying the guy off to go away and finishing his call with Pam, Stu is about to walk away, when the phone rings.  Instinctively, he answers it.  A stranger (voice of Kiefer Sutherland) who seems to know a lot about Stu’s life, orders him to stay in the booth and on the phone.  It turns out that the caller had been the one who had sent the pizza guy.  Stu is ready to hang up on the caller because he figures that the guy is just some nut actor who he may have screwed over in the past and is now messing with him.  The caller turns out to be a sniper with a rifle, and proves it by cocking the gun and shining his red laser sight on Stu while continuing to order Stu to stay put.  The caller seems to be tired of corporate liars, and Stu is his latest target.  He wants to have fun torturing Stu, so he makes Stu call Pam and Kelly and tell them the truth.  Things start looking more deadly when the sniper shoots and kills a pimp named Leon (John Enos III) who was getting in Stu’s face about using the phone of his hookers Felicia (Paula Jai Parker), Corky (Arian Ash), and Asia (Tia Texada.)  Not long after that, the police and Capt. Ramey (Forest Whitaker) show up.  Ramey is a guy with his own personal problems, but here he is just trying to find out what's going on.  Since the sniper used a silencer, everyone jumps to the conclusion that Stu shot Leon, even though he doesn’t have a gun.  So he can keep having fun with Stu, the sniper doesn’t allow Stu to tell Ramey what his predicament is in the booth.  The sniper threatens to shoot different people, including Ramey, Kelly, and then Pam, who both show up after seeing Stu on the news.  As Stu tries to figure out what it will take for the sniper to let him go, Ramey tries to see if Stu is a killer or a hostage.


Before I get to my review, I want to point out why I don’t think this movie would traumatize most people, and probably wouldn’t have in November either.  The real snipers, John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo, were random with their targets.  The sniper in this movie was well planned out and chose specific targets, and didn’t have the intention of killing as many people as possible.  He researched and carefully chose Stu as a target.  In addition, this is just a movie, people!  It’s not real, and it’s not going to send some psycho over the edge (because if a movie is so easily going to drive someone to those lengths, he was already 9/10ths of the way there already.)  This movie is just pure escapism for adults.


The movie has many things about it that audiences will appreciate.  First, Colin Farrell continues to impress me.  He was great in both The Recruit and Daredevil this year alone, and he plays the slick shyster who has to swallow his pride very well.  Whitaker did the clueless-at-first policeman effectively.  Then we have Kiefer.  They couldn’t have picked a better man to do the creepy sniper voice.  Heck, his voice gave me chills hearing it in the trailers for this film!  Fortunately, director Joel Schumacher made the decision to have Kiefer do his lines in a voice-over instead of in a phone-voice sound.  That would have been annoying to hear for the very short length of this movie (yes, it is short…about 81 minutes!)


The only thing I didn’t like about the movie was its obvious attack on capitalism.  The sniper doesn’t like Stu because he is in the business of lying for profit?  Whatever.  I shouldn’t be surprised about the script, since it was written by legendary Blaxploitation writer/director Larry Cohen, who in 1985, wrote and directed a movie called The Stuff which was a direct satire of America’s obsession with mass marketing.  It was about a killer frozen substance that was marketed as frozen yogurt, which addicted and eventually killed the public.  The movie was a fun B-grade horror movie, but its commentary about pop society was loud and clear.  For some reason Cohen has a big problem with people making money, so he makes the goods and services the characters in his movies sell always evil.  Oh well.

Schumacher has redeemed himself again after last year’s terrible Bad Company with Phone Booth.  He seems to be most effective when he does R-rated movies with Colin (Tigerland), Kiefer (The Lost Boys, Flatliners, A Time to Kill), or plotlines dealing with revenge (Falling Down.)  Otherwise, he seems to fall flat.  Some of my friends still can’t forgive him for ruining the Batman franchise with the last two films.  Schumacher should stay away from any superheroes or scripts that would garner below an R-rating.  Also…studios, please trust in the intelligence of the American public to separate fact from fiction.  Otherwise, there will come a day when people will claim to freak out about something in every movie, and nothing will ever be released!


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Ratings System:


Catch this movie at the theater if you can...

Wait until it comes out on video...

Wait until it plays on HBO, Showtime, Starz, etc...

Demand your money back, even if you saw it for free!

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