Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 16, 2003)
Let’s hear it for Colin Farrell! The world needs more sex symbols with that name, and I’m darned happy he also actually pronounces it correctly – damn you, Colin Powell!
So far, Farrell has made a name for himself more from his “bad boy” behavior than his movies, though. Phone Booth made more of a splash because of a controversy that delayed its theatrical release. Fox originally planned to release it in the fall of 2002, but the “Beltway Sniper” case changed that. The film didn’t really echo the real-life events, but the studio erred on the side of caution.
When Booth finally hit screens in April 2003, it failed to make much of an impact. The movie took in $45 million despite some fairly good notices. Actually, since the flick only cost about $10 million, it turned a nice little profit.
Booth focuses on Stu Shepard (Farrell), an obnoxious, self-important New York publicist. We see him strut the streets of Manhattan with a cell phone as his constant companion for his maneuverings. He stops to use a soon to be demolished phone booth so he can call Pam (Katie Holmes), a client who he wants to turn into his mistress, without detection by his wife Kelly (Radha Mitchell).
Before Stu leaves the booth, a pizza delivery guy tries to give him a pie. He declines and then he gets a buzz from a mysterious caller (Kiefer Sutherland). This dude taunts Stu and ultimately warns him not to leave the booth or he’ll be shot.
The rest of the movie follows the action as it progresses. Stu gets into altercations with streetwalkers and other locals, and eventually the police arrive on the scene. Stu deals with Captain Ed Ramey (Forest Whitaker), the one who attempts to negotiate with him. As the caller continues to toy with Stu and manipulate him, we watch the situation get more and more serious.
At 81 minutes, Phone Booth manages to run just long enough to exploit its situations but not too long to overstay its welcome. At its best, the movie offers a taut little thriller. One of the film’s strengths stems from its premise. The concept of a man trapped in a phone booth by a deranged killer seems really cool to me, and it generally works as a lively piece here.
However, I can’t help but think that someone less flashy and fluffy than director Joel Schumacher might have created a stronger tale from that concept. No stranger to visual excess, Schumacher uses an unusual style throughout most of Booth. The film features various levels of insets with different camera angles. That means we can see Stu while we also watch what the police do, for example.
In theory, this sounds like an interesting presentation, but in reality, it seems awfully busy and gimmicky. I think Booth would have been wonderful in the hands of someone like Hitchcock, and it could have worked better here if Schumacher didn’t spread the action so thin. I’d have preferred a near-total emphasis on Stu’s point of view; that might have more heavily emphasized his situation and the claustrophobia of things tied to his helplessness.
Phone Booth also suffered from Se7en syndrome. It seems like most movies about serial killers must tip their hats to the Fincher classic, and Booth nods in that direction more heavily than most. After all, is the Caller really any different than John Doe? Frankly, Booth often feels like it simply wants to take one of Doe’s killings and make it into its own feature film.
On the positive side, Farrell helps turn the unlikable Stu into a more sympathetic character as the film progresses. He seems somewhat over the top at times, but he keeps us attached to the action. The vast majority of the movie focuses on his performance, and given the fact that he spends most of that talking to an off-screen voice, Farrell faced some real challenges. He allows the movie to stay together and become something generally intriguing.
The movie also seems fairly tough to read, at least for its first two acts. Unfortunately, the final portion of the movie goes for some easy sentiment and totally quashes much sense of suspense. Stu’s character evolves in such a way that a certain form of ending becomes virtually inevitable, and that seems like a disappointment given the moderately tough to predict nature of the preceding portions.
While inconsistent and flawed, Phone Booth still manages to offer something moderately unusual. The presentation becomes somewhat grating and excessively spazzy, but the concept of the film and some good acting allow it to flourish at times. Not much about Phone Booth seems likely to dazzle you, but it offers a fun and tense experience for the most part.