Cellular doesn't waste minutes

Sept. 14, 2004, midnight | By Kiran Bhat | 19 years, 7 months ago

Unorthodox suspense movie keeps you on the line

Everyone has made or received a harrowing phone call at one point or the other, whether it was a child ringing to inform a parent that she's been in a car crash, or a young man calling the police after he's been mugged. However, no one expects a call from a complete stranger who has just been abducted and needs immediate help. This is just the scenario that plays out in the brilliantly acted and directed thriller, Cellular.

What made this film so superb wasn't simply the nimble use of suspense by former stunt-coordinator turned director David R. Ellis, but the reality of it all. Although the premise of the movie is quite awkward, the characters have a certain charm, mostly achieved through their down-to-earth behavior. In turn, we can relate to the characters, giving the audience the feeling that we are actually living the thriller instead of simply watching it.

The movie begins with the kidnapping of California high school biology teacher Jessica Martin, played by Kim Basinger (L.A. Confidential, 8 Mile). The scene is so genuinely frightening because Basinger adroitly convinces the audience of her character's normality in the few minutes she has on screen before the abduction. When the menacing thugs smash through Jessica's glass door, you could easily see it happening in your own home.

The scene quickly cuts to Jessica being flung into a dark attic, as lead kidnapper Greer (Jason Statham) smashes the room's lone telephone. Ellis uses contrast of lighting to create an eerie atmosphere, as Jessica frantically searches for a way out. Eventually, she starts reconstructing the phone wires, attempting to reach the outside world for help.

While Jessica is going through this ordeal for seemingly no reason, carefree twenty-something Ryan (Chris Evans, Not another Teen Movie) is at the Santa Monica Pier, checking out ladies in bikinis and attempting to win back his ex-girlfriend. Ryan's immaturity is quickly challenged when Jessica ends up on his cell phone line. The young man's attitude goes from skeptical to scared to courageous in a matter of moments. Writer Larry Cohen does an impressive job of developing Ryan from an Average Joe into a full-fledged hero.

Eventually, Ryan takes his phone to a police station, where Sergeant Mooney (William H. Macy, Seabiscuit, Fargo), a desk cop of 27 years who's bored with his job and wants to start a day spa with his wife, jots down Jessica's name. However, extenuating circumstances force Mooney to respond, and Ryan's attempt to help Jessica is foiled. Macy clearly turns in the best performance of all in Cellular, doing a wonderful job of portraying his quirky and fed-up, yet heroic character. If Ryan is Cellular's hunky hero, Mooney provides the good guys with some wisdom, experience and balance.

The remainder of the movie features both Ryan and Jessica's experiences as the course of events unfolds. When her family is also captured, Jessica fights back valiantly against her captors like a lioness defending her cubs. Ryan's odyssey has some humorous interjections, as he robs a cell phone store to get a charger, steals the Porsche of a hilariously arrogant yuppie lawyer (License Plate: I WL SU YU 2), and accidentally calls a Vietnamese caricature artist (Dat Phan, winner of NBC's Last Comic Standing).

Most impressively though, writer Larry Cohen cleanly ties Ryan's escapades back to Sergeant Mooney, allowing for both characters to share the heroic spotlight, a task that the two actors handle with grace. But even with all the heroics, the tension in the final scene is palpable, as all the characters converge for one final showdown.

If Cellular had one flaw, it would be the predictability of the villains' misdeeds, who just happen to be the type of dirty cops that come a dime a dozen these days. Cellular lends very little character development to the story's antagonists. On the other hand, the story's protagonists are developed so well that by the end of the film, audiences would probably forgive the cliché used as a foundation for the villains.

Cellular does a fantastic job of balancing just the right amount of suspense with some lightening humor. The triumvirate of heroes, Jessica, Ryan and Mooney mesh together cohesively to form one brave, heroic group that attempts to reach its goal. In addition, the movie manages to feel as if it's happening to you, a feat that marks truly excellent thrillers. After all, do you know who your next call might be coming from?

Cellular is rated PG-13 for violence, terror situations, language and some sexual references

Kiran Bhat. Kiran Bhat is a senior who loves the Washington Redskins, 24, Coldplay, Kanye West, Damien Rice, Outkast and Common (Sense). He aspires to be the next Sanjay Gupta. He will miraculously grow a Guptaesque telegenic face and sculpted body by the age of 30. In … More »

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