I love honest B-movies. They're delightfully escapist and usually worth the time spent watching them. Should they be taken seriously at all? Certainly so, at least while you're watching them and can suspend disbelief for 90 minutes or so. A good thriller works as well as anything the cinema can spit out.

Cellular is a lovely modern B-movie, with hi-tech gimmickry. And like David Fincher's Panic Room, sets its rules up and expects the audience to grab on quick. The central premise takes a little swallowing, but from then on, it's all gravy.

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Kim Basinger plays Jessica Martin, a high-school science teacher, who is abducted and locked in an attic by Greer (Jason Statham) and his gang. As if realising a mistake, he shatters the phone that's in the room with a sledgehammer and locks the door. Using the power of science (muahahah!), she twists some wires and partially reconstructs the phone, enough to tap out a number and gets a hold of the relatively nearby slacker-twentysomething Ryan on his cellular.

With this clanger of a setup out of the way, the wireless connection proves to be the only thing Jessica can cling onto in the outside world, as Ryan tries to get help. He's played with good-natured resilience by Chris Evans, who may or may not have been cast for acting talent. The jury returns a "not-proven" on that, although he'll attract female attention in future movies. He's hot.

The main reason I enjoy the film so much is the number of obstacles this tenuous connection of his mobile phone brings down on top of the abduction story. Areas of bad reception seal off places, crossed wireless connections and a wonderful recharging story send us into a splendidly extended and gratituous stunt-driving sequence. And since it turns out that Ryan is going to be the only help available for Jessica, he ends up racing all over town to try to thwart the villains.

The strategy of the screenplay is to place one obstacle after another, believably. The movie knows it's ludicrous, but doesn't break the audience's known rules, especially regarding the ingenious use of mobile phones and telephone equipment and takes the time to inconspicuously set up what it needs. Hitchcock would have liked this situation.

Another thing a great thriller requires is believable characters and understandable motivations. Cellular does not disappoint. The kidnappers have reasons, and are willing to do anything to prevent danger to themselves. Another standout is William H. Macy, as a policeman planning retirement after 27 years. This situation unlike many cliched thrillers, does not automatically spell doom. In fact, he pools surprising reserve in following Ryan's story. Especially with a wonderful moment in which he pieces together (with stinging fruit acid paste all over his face - don't ask) that something's rotten in the state of Denmark. It's this kind of professional character building that lends the ludicrous story credence.

Cellular is fun, enticing and occasionally nasty enough to remind you that it's taking itself seriously, while not being unpleasantly gritty. In fact, it's one of the year's best entertainments. And it has William H Macy diving like Chow Yun-Fat, easily worth the price of admission.

Reviewed on: 01 Oct 2004
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Abducted teacher makes contact with outside world through radio waves.
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Gator MacReady ****

Director: David R Ellis

Writer: Chris Morgan

Starring: Kim Basinger, Chris Evans, William H Macy, Eric Christian Olsen, Jessica Biel, Jason Statham

Year: 2004

Runtime: 94 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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