On a fairly regular basis, I chide movies for their gaps in logic. However, the truth is that this is only a problem when a movie doesnít work. A film that generates enough energy and momentum can sweep the audience up to a degree that the gaps in logic donít detract from the enjoyment of the story. Cellular is a case in point. Hereís a picture that falls apart if you think about it too much yet, to its credit, you never do. Good acting, solid direction, and some genuine cleverness carry you right over the plot holes.
Kim Basinger stars as Jessica Martin, a high school science teacher who is kidnapped by some nasties led by the menacing Ethan (Jason Statham). They lock her in an attic and announce that theyíre going out to find her husband and son. Jessica assembles the pieces of a shattered telephone and clicks the wires together, hoping to somehow make a connection and call for help.
She ultimately reaches the cell phone of Ryan (Chris Evans), a 20-year old guy who has just been dissed by his ex-girlfriend for being too irresponsible and uncaring. Jessica explains her story and begs Ryan to get help. He initially thinks heís being pranked, but as Jessica talks more, he starts to understand that the situation is real. Ryan ends up racing across the city, trying to stay a step ahead of the bad guys, all the while keeping Jessica on the line. William H. Macy co-stars as a cop whom Ryan talks to; he later becomes a crucial part of the story.
(In case youíre wondering why Ryan doesnít just go to the police station, I should point out that he does. However, in the interest of preserving some of the storyís surprise, Iím not going to divulge why this doesnít quite work.)
Cellular requires the viewer to suspend their disbelief. The events that take place arenít particularly plausible, and certain things happen via sheer coincidence or, more accurately, because of the machinations of the plot. If youíre the type of moviegoer who demands 100% plausibility, then Cellular might drive you crazy. On the other hand, if you are the type of moviegoer who is willing to surrender yourself to the forward motion of the piece, then youíll almost certainly overlook them and cheerfully get caught up in the film. The story (co-written by Larry Cohen, who also penned the similarly themed Phone Booth) hits the ground running and never stops, nicely conveying the urgency of the situation in which Jessica and Ryan find themselves.
Part of what makes it all so fun is that there are many clever little elements that work their way into the plot. For instance, at one point, the battery on Ryanís cell phone starts to die. He runs into a store to buy a charger, but canít get the assistance of a clerk. Poor reception and line bleed-through also figure prominently. If youíve ever had difficulty with your cell phone, odds are that Ryan has the same difficulty during the film. Thereís also a lot of ingenuity in how the movie portrays the cellular phone. It argues that, in the right hands, a cell phone is its own kind of weapon. The little gizmos arenít just used for making calls anymore. They have all kinds of other bells and whistles, several of which Ryan ultimately uses to his advantage.
Director David Ellis makes his feature debut here. He shows a lot of promise in creating taut action scenes, but he also seems smart enough to know that the action means nothing without a human element. Cellular actually has a lot of character development. This is the story of two people: the woman who canít understand why goons are terrorizing her family, and the young man who accepts real responsibility for the first time in his life. Thereís an admirable balance between character and action in the film.
The cast is uniformly first-rate. Jason Statham is truly menacing as the main baddie. Chris Evans (Not Another Teen Movie, The Perfect Score) immediately pulls us into his characterís dilemma and keeps us with him every step of the way. This guy could turn out to be a big star. Kim Basinger, often underrated as an actress, does a lot of the heavy lifting as the frightened captive. She brings a palpable sense of fear to her role. She is the heart of the film. Because we can feel her fear, we have a rooting interest in the storyís outcome.
Then thereís William H. Macy, who is always worth watching. His character dreams of retiring from the force in order to open a day spa with his wife. Such a character could, in the wrong hands, come off as a joke. Macy really makes it work, though. Thereís a scene in which he has a major realization about the case while testing some facial crŤme. Macy looks ridiculous with this green algae stuff all over his face, which gets a laugh, but then you see the wheels start to turn inside his head, and itís deadly serious. Not many actors could pull that off, but then again not many actors are William H. Macy.
Cellular is genuinely exciting, and there are moments of real humor as well. Like I said, it falls apart if you think about it too much. Whatís the point in doing that, though? If you can put your disbelief on the shelf for 96 minutes, then this is a thoroughly enjoyable time at the movies.
( out of four)
Cellular is rated PG-13 for violence, terror situations, language and some sexual references. The running time is 1 hour and 34 minutes.
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