Year: 2004
Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller
Play time: 
Director: David R. Ellis
Screenwriters: Chris Morgan
Starring: Kim Basinger, Chris Evans, Jason Statham

What you expect from Cellular — what the trailer and the premise lead you to expect — is a tough, tight, straightforward thriller that functions like a suspense machine; something in the vein of Panic Room, perhaps. To the extent that this is a genre, it’s one of my favorites, so despite the negative buzz and the “bad sign” Wednesday night screening, I had hopes for a brisk, hair-raising 87 minutes. Well, hair-raising it’s not; brisk it is; it’s also unbelievably stupid and lots of fun.


The original screenplay was by genre veteran Larry Cohen, and I suspect that it was closer to what I was hoping for here. Cohen only gets a story credit; the screenplay was evidently written by first-timer Chris Morgan, and I would bet the deed to my house, if I had one, that the bizarre comic relief and weird digressions came in around rewrite #7. And so the plot is interrupted so that our friend Ryan (Chris Evans), who is stuck on a cell phone talking to a woman who has been kidnapped but doesn’t know where she is, can yell at a neighboring driver to get off the cell phone and concentrate on the road.


The trick to Cellular’s success, I think, is that it’s aware of its own absurdity without laughing at itself. This is a fine line: the movie is dumb, it knows it’s dumb, but it doesn’t wink or make fun or even care. The result is plenty of laughs and jeers from the audience, but also applause at all the right times, and a distinct tendency for people to move toward the edge of their seats. That kind of dichotomy is very difficult to pull off, and I found it fairly sublime.


It also allows us the exceedingly rare sight of William H. Macy participating in a full-on brawl-style fight scene — and winning! I can see this movie becoming a sort of collector’s item several lifetime achievement awards later; a reasonable person might ask why a legendary character actor like Macy would be caught dead in something like this. I suspect that the man knew what he was doing; the role of the fey veteran policeman fits him like a glove, and he looks to have had a lot of fun.


Looking considerably less entertained is Kim Basinger, who manages to get herself outacted by Chris Evans. Granted, the screenplay mostly leaves her with only desperate pleas for help and an occasional scream or sob, but she remains oddly unconvincing in a role that should have been a cakewalk. I could have sworn that at times she was reading the lines off a teleprompter. Fortunately, the movie takes the pressure off a bit by giving us the likes of Macy and Noah Emmerich in supporting parts; people who know how to handle this silliness and make it good.


Any discussion of Cellular must involve the touchy issue of suspension of disbelief. My position is that the film requires so much of it that it kind of crosses over into not requiring any at all, if that makes any sense. In other words, it comes with a neon “SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF” sign on its forehead; being able to ignore good sense and logic isn’t an option, it’s simply a prerequisite for watching it. Everything’s built around the viewer’s ability to do that. Without suspension of disbelief there’s no movie.


As a perfectly willing disbelief-suspender, I thought this was a dandy hour and a half. Not too many movies can make me laugh uproariously at the plot while continuing to care about it. Mileage may vary, but if the idea of William H. Macy beating up someone roughly twice his size sounds like a hoot, then this may be just the movie you were looking for this September.

Seeking in movies meaning and reflection in real-time. On the look out for biography, thriller & drama best pieces.

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