Originally created 09/10/04

At the Movies: 'Cellular'



First came "Phone Booth," in which Colin Farrell was trapped under a sniper's predatory gaze while making a call in Times Square.

Now we have "Cellular," with a kidnapped Kim Basinger randomly calling a surfer dude's mobile phone for help.

One can only imagine what's next - "BlackBerry," perhaps, about threatening text messages, or "iPod: The Musical."

While these all sound like totally ludicrous premises, the makers of "Cellular" insist that their film is rooted in reality - that it's "a movie about social and moral responsibility," as producer Dean Devlin says.

They've got the wrong number there. "Cellular" functions best when it has a little fun with itself and embraces its innate B-movie tendencies.

Basinger, for example, plays Jessica Martin, arguably the hottest high-school science teacher ever.

Even after she's abducted from her home in posh Brentwood, Calif., by a motley, multicultural assortment of baddies, and even after their leader (Jason Statham) hauls her into a musty attic and smashes a phone on the wall with a sledgehammer, Jessica still manages to reconstruct the contraption by simply clicking a couple of wires together. She's like MacGyver in fishnet stockings.

Faster than you can say "Can you hear me now?" she's on the line with shirtless slacker Ryan (Chris Evans from "The Perfect Score" and "Not Another Teen Movie"). He's at the beach and is naturally skeptical when he hears Jessica's breathless voice gasping, "They're going to kill me - you're my only hope."

Ryan correctly wonders why she didn't just call the cops if she were truly in trouble, but eventually agrees to take his cell phone, with her still on it, to the police department himself. There he runs into Sgt. Mooney (William H. Macy, and what is he doing here?).

Mooney's on the verge of retiring after 27 years and plans to open a day spa with his wife, which inspires an amusing sight gag involving an algae facial mask.

And there are some other surprisingly funny little detours and supporting characters as Ryan runs around Los Angeles trying to save Jessica. He finds a handgun and whips it out in a busy mobile phone store when his battery is running low and he needs a charger. He also carjacks a convertible, ice-blue Porsche from a guy who has got to be the world's most obnoxious movie lawyer.

But then the movie dissolves into your usual action-flick fistfights and shootouts, despite the presence of Macy, the bungling "Fargo" villain here serving in the heroic Marge Gunderson role.

Among the nagging plot holes: Why does Ryan have a cell phone signal in one stairway and not another? And why do Jessica's husband and 11-year-old son (named Ricky Martin, which is pretty funny) trust him, a complete stranger, when he tries to help them, too?

Larry Cohen, who wrote "Phone Booth," also conceived "Cellular" and maintains a "story by" credit, though first-timer Chris Morgan is credited with having written the screenplay. That sort of makes it a sequel, which would be fitting in the filmography of director David R. Ellis ("Final Destination 2," "Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco").

"Cellular," a New Line Cinema release, is rated PG-13 for violence, terror situations, language and sexual references. Running time: 89 minutes. Two stars out of four.