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Phone Booth (2003)

17 June 2003 by Gnoll No Comment

PHONE BOOTH


2003, dir. Joel Schumacher

81 min. Rated R.
Starring: Colin Farrell, Katie Holmes, Forest Whitaker, Kiefer Sutherland.

Review by Noel Wood

I’m going to do something that I never thought I’d do on this here website — nay, in this here lifetime. I’m going to confess something that may indeed shake the site to its very foundation. In fact, it may very well shake the Earth and knock kittens out of trees. It’s taken me a week and a half to decide that it’s time to finally reveal this fact, but I feel it’s my duty to let the world know. It’s more Earth-shattering than the day that I admitted to watching pro wrestling. It’s more shocking than the announcement that I used to wear Batman Underoos™. Yes, this is the kind of thing that may turn empires on their ears. Are you ready? Because, well, I think I’m ready to out myself:

I enjoyed a Joel Schumacher film

There. I said it. And I ain’t talking about D.C. CAB or THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING WOMAN, which I kinda may have enjoyed when I was still in single digits agewise, but I mean a real live new Joel Schumacher movie. That I saw in my late twenties. Sober. And not for ironic reasons.

    

For those of you who may be new to this site, or don’t know the triumvirate of movie clerks who founded this concept eons ago, Let me explain it to you: We share an utter disdain for Mr. Schumacher ever since he did the untinkable and detroyed our precious BATMAN. A good 90% of the early writings that comprised MCFTR, including much of our “lost” material (which includes my horrifically funny review of BEVERLY HILLS NINJA that I shall never be able to duplicate,) was basically us taking turns on Schumacher like he was a whore at a swingers’ party (not that Joel would have minded, we’re pretty sure.) When you begin unconsciously yelling the mantra of “You ruined Batman, you talentless cocksucker!” at the screen each time a commercial for FLAWLESS or 8MM (the one not starring Eminem) comes on your television, you know it’s time to chill the fuck out. When you once prepared a speech for a college class about how Schumacher ruined your childhood (a distinction that I later passed on to George Lucas), beginning with the line “Nipples on the Batsuit…”, it’s almost therapy time.

I guess, occasionally, even the hackiest hacks who ever hacked can shock the world and pull a winner out of their bag of tricks. I mean, even Renny Harlin and Ridley Scott have made at least one enjoyable film apiece. I guess Schumacher has finally had his turn. He tried real hard when he turned in FALLING DOWN, a movie that took two steps back for every one it took forward. He’s created a film in a similair vein here in PHONE BOOTH, which preys once again on our fears of working-class white guys who go crazy and start killing people for moral reasons. Not bad timing that I caught this one shortly after the arrest of Eric Robert Rudolph. this one, written by the one and only Larry “Maniac Cop 1 and 2″ Cohen, is less about the villain than it is the victim, who’s not exactly the most upstanding member of society.

Colin Farrell (the drunk, chain-smoking Irish guy who the ladies are going gaga over) stars as Stu Shepard, a New York City wannabe talent agent who wears gaudy Italian suits and fake rolex watches. He’s cheating on his wife with a young actress (played by Katie Holmes, who is cute and all but will someday slip up and make Hollywood realize she’s got the acting ability of that fish that flopped around in that one Faith no More video) and makes calls to her from, of all things, a phone booth, in order to conceal his cheatin’ heart. At least he’s nice enough to slip off his wedding band when he makes the phone call, because, well, I guess it’s not really cheating then. One day he gets a strange pizza delivery while in the booth and then shortly thereafter makes the mistake of answering a ring in the same booth. There’s a man, who claims to have a gun pointed at him, giving Stu a pretty cut and dry scenario to live out: Move, and die. Hang up, and die. Confess your sins, maybe he’ll let you live.

Anyway, as you can probably imagine, it doesn’t take long for the authorities and the media to be all over Stu as he engages in conversation with the unknown sniper. He’s forced to confess to his wife that he has a mistress, he’s forced to ask a police captain (Forest Whitaker, who after all those big movies you’d think would be able to afford to fix that droopy eye of his) about his masturbatory habits, and has to make some pretty ugly moral dilemmas on the spot. The sniper has the whole thing worked out. Calling 911 or trying to explain that he’s unarmed will get Stu nowhere. He seems pretty much out of luck. He talks like a classic villain, using big words and laughing at inopportune times. Of course, because the trailers all but scream it out to you, we all know the unseen figure is played by Keifer Sutherland (who just happens to have appeared in nearly as many movies with the center of Hollywood himself, Kevin Bacon, as his father Donald has.)

    

So yeah. This movie’s good. No, it’s not going to be a classic one day, and it’s not going to be studied in detail in college film class, but it’s good. And I guess you can sort of give Joel Schumacher some credit for that. (Yes, I just typed that. Really. No, I mean it, it was really me. My cat didn’t just pounce on the keyboard and create that string of characters. Because when she does, it looks like this: wfaejhio;oiafs) Schumacher has directed a tight little thriller that really gives you an edge-of-your-seat feeling. He even manages to cover up some pretty big flaws in the script by downplaying those lines where you know it was kind of like “what do maniacal snipers talk about for hours on end?” by shoving them into the background while developing the tension with the crowd. There’s some touches that would make even Hitch himself proud of ol’ rubber nipple man.

And then there’s the performance of Mr. Colin Farrell, who I’ve come to believe is some sort of demigod, sent to us from the mythical land of Ire-Land to restore our faith in good performances. After a knockout job in MINORITY REPORT and being the best thing about DAREDEVIL, he really delivers the goods here. Quite often, I found myself forgetting I was watching Colin Farrell and felt like it was Benicio Del Toro up there. and Benicio Del Toro is a great actor, so that’s like a double Whopper hold the mayo. Everything he does to pull off the character of Stu makes the guy real. He’s a real sleazebag, all too typical of the type of character he represents, but you’re forced to sympathize for him in his moral dilemmas. He goes from arrogant prick to sniveling bitch-boy in the ease that I can down a slice of pumpkin pie.

PHONE BOOTH took about thirty bajillion years to come out. It’s a twenty-year old script, has had everyone from Jim Carrey to Will Smith attached to the leading role at some point, and finally showed itself at film festivals last year. I sometimes wish it had never come out, for then I would have never had to reveal that dirty little secret. Oh well. I really wanted to hate this movie. I guess I’ll just have to wait for THE HULK to come out this weekend to really be disappointed in something.

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