Phone Booth. Fox 2000 Pictures presents a film directed by Joel Schumacher. Written by Larry Cohen. Running time: 81 minutes. Rated R (for pervasive language and some violence). Starring Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland, Forest Whitaker, Katie Holmes, Radha Mitchell.

Phone Booth

Director Joel Schumacher seems to have a strange pattern going. He'll make one mediocre-to-unwatchable movie, and then follow it up with a good one. After making the oddly somnambulant 8MM, he made the independent war film, Tigerland. And now, after Bad Company, we have Phone Booth. I doubt Schumacher will ever be forgiven for what he did to Batman (Batman & Robin), but he still makes steps in the right direction; Phone Booth is his most recent one.

The underlying message of the movie is obvious - we spend way too much time on the phone. Phone Booth opens with a completely unecessary voice-over (by someone not even in the movie), talking about how many people talk on the phone at one time. After this, we are introduced to Stuart Shephard (Colin Farrell), a loud-mouthed publicist who spends every last moment of his day on a phone. When we first see him, he is strolling down the sidewalk, chatting on his cell phone, making deals and not taking no for an answer. When he stops by a pay-phone to make a call to a pretty young actress named Pamela (Katie Holmes), with whom he's considering having an affair, he gets a call from a mysterious stranger (Kiefer Sutherland), who says he has a rifle trained on Stu, and will kill him unless he changes his ways. The thing is, he can't hang up the phone, or tell anyone about what's going on. When the voice kills a bystander, the police, led by the captain (Forest Whitaker), swarm the scene, and Stu is the suspect.

The prospect doesn't sound all that exciting - after all, what fun could a movie set almost entirely inside a phone booth be - but, like Speed, Phone Booth keeps it interesting. You can't think too hard (if at all), but if you just sit back and let the movie's twists and high-energy performances take you in, it's actually highly enjoyable.

The running length, 80 minutes, is just about perfect for this type of movie. Any longer, and Phone Booth would certainly overstay its welcome. In fact, it only leads to one major problem. The screenplay attempts to develop the police captain and make him more human by throwing in various tidbits about his life - his troubled marriage, etc. - but there isn't enough time to make these any more than just facts that lead to nothing. Forest Whitaker does a great job with the material provided, but this is one of those rare times when a two-dimensional generic cop would have perhaps worked better.

Colin Farrell puts his trademark devil-may-care attitude to great use as the fast-talking Stu, and manages to display great range once his character realizes that perhaps the only way out of the situation is through his death. Kiefer Sutherland, a talented actor who has never had much of a movie career, takes a break from his television show 24 as the disembodied voice on the telephone. His character is only seen for a brief moment, so credit must be given to Sutherland for doing quite a lot with what he's given.

Phone Booth is a great example of a popcorn movie. As mentioned earlier, there are numerous plot holes, but credit must be given to screenwriter Larry Cohen for keeping them from becoming obvious until after the credits have rolled. The movie occasionally tries to be a little more than what it is, and at these times it becomes less effective, but as a whole, it is a singularly satisfying experience, and the best thriller of 2003 to-date.

© 2003 Matt Noller