Phone Booth


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Phone Booth
"The caller runs through a routine of psychological intimidation which he might have perfected in kindergarten."

Long-awaited and woefully rewritten, this would-be Hitchcockian thriller wastes the ample talents of Colin Farrell and Forest Whitaker in a tale which simply fails to engage.

The pitch is a strong one - a man answers a ringing phone and learns that the caller is aiming a sniper rifle at him, so he'll be shot if he hangs up and must do what he is told in the meantime. The caller, however, is from the Hannibal Lecter school of character development, so even though he pretends to sharp intelligence and some kind of moral superiority, we don't see much evidence of it - he's as dull as the average usenet troll.

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His advantages are based entirely on forward planning, the stupidity of his adversaries, and the fact that American cinemagoers have been trained to assume that emotionless voices equal scary intellect. It seems he has selected his victim because he wants to teach him a lesson about the despicable crimes of fancying women other than his wife (not fucking them, just fancying them - like 95 per cent of the population...) and being self-centered (this is set in New York!). To do this, he runs through a routine of psychological intimidation which he might have perfected in kindergarten.

Facing this, Colin Farrell must downplay his own intelligence to create a character who is at once insubstantial and unreasonably sympathetic. The audience's sympathy is pushed so strongly toward the captive from the outset that it never really fails him, even when he confesses to imperfection, so there's no emotional journey for us to make and no room for the character to develop.

Meanwhile, Whitaker does his level best to make something of the recently divorced, slightly depressed police officer who suspects something is wrong, but the script gives him so little to work with that all he can do is be a Nice Guy. The only character who gets the opportunity to go through real changes is the captive's wife, but she's underused and given scant opportunity to express herself.

Add to this an utter failure to understand physics (bullets behave incorrectly, laser pointers work from too far away, injuries fail to produce their logical effects), which matters in a tale of this type; a bunch of distastefully cliched comedy whores (who do, however, show off clothing by some of New York and Los Angeles' best alternative designers); and a police team so incredibly inept that they fail to spot possibilities most audience members had worked out just five minutes after the film started - and what remains is a shadow of what it should have been.

I'd have loved to see someone like Adam Sandler or Jim Carrey in that phone booth - an actor who could really play despicable and therefore keep shifting the sympathies of the audience. The ending is weak, ridiculous and patronising. This isn't generally a despicable film, and it does have its moments, but it's all played strictly by the book. You won't want to bother redialling.

Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2007
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Phone Booth packshot
Colin Farrell is trapped in a New York telephone box by a mysterious sniper.
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Angus Wolfe Murray ***1/2

Director: Joel Schumacher

Writer: Larry Cohen

Starring: Colin Farrell, Forest Whitaker, Radha Mitchell, Katie Holmes, Paula Jai Parker, Arian Waring Ash, Tia Texada, John Enos III, Richard T. Jones, Keith Nobbs, Kiefer Sutherland

Year: 2002

Runtime: 81 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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