Monday, January 24, 2005

Phone Booth

Writer Larry Cohen allegedly first had the idea for a film about an ethically-challenged PR man pinned in a phone booth by a sniper some twenty years ago. By the time he finally saw his script given the Joel Schumacher treatment, there was only one phone booth left in New York, or so we are told. Cohen had to wait a bit longer still for the film's premiere as the Washington Beltway sniper briefly put his fictional counterparts out of business.

The creepy voice on the other end of the line is played by Keifer Sutherland. On my reading of the bible, this is just how the God of the Old Testament must have sounded to Moses; it's also uncannily similar to the "what's your favourite scary movie?" voice in the opening scene of Scream.

There are some obvious missed opportunities for developing further dialogue and comic drama amongst the police and onlookers. Given the tightness of the spot that Colin Farrell finds himself in, it's real a pity that Cohen couldn't think up a more credible and ingenious way for him to wriggle out of it.

Phone Booth somehow feels like one of those American re-makes of a better, deeper, subtitled original. In fact I can just imagine a quirky German take on this from Tom Twyker. Perhaps it's time for European cinema to start ripping off Tinseltown?

Anyway, the US Entertainment industry's cinematic self-examinations never come across as wholly sincere. In the end Colin Farrell is just a bit too wimpy and the background characters too indistinct to get anything more out of this plot other than a brief 80 minutes of mainstream movie entertainment. Yet a smarter director could have turned this situation into a thought-provoking metaphor for the whole religious mindset.

Telephones and mind-fucks go back a long way in the history of cinema. As I mentioned in my review of L'Appartement, mobile technologies are acting to constrict some of the traditional possibilities, yet new plot devices are emerging onto the market all the time. A couple of Sundays ago. in BBC3's excellent Twisted Tales: Txt Msg Rcvd, another professional male of questionable moral standards was tormented and ultimately terminated by his supernaturally-possessed handset.

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