Phone Booth

Phone Booth has a very intriguing idea. What happens to a guy who’s essentially trapped in a phone booth? Unfortunately the answer is, not much. flmGEEk explains why this call should have been dropped.

Director Joel Schumacher fancies himself an ‘edgy’ director. He got his start as a fashion photographer, and in most of his films (Batman and Robin, Flatliners, Falling Down) it shows. He always seems more concerned about making things look good, when he should actually be making things make sense. In his latest, Phone Booth, Schumacher seems to have found his dream project. The stars, Colin Farrell, Katie Holmes, and Radha Mitchell, are beautiful people, and since the majority of the film takes place in the aforementioned phone booth, Schumacher has every opportunity to spice things up with wacky camera movement and a variety of film stocks and filters. Once again though Schumacher forgets about some of the key elements of film making, namely plot and character.

    Stu Shepard (Farrell) is a weasel. He’s that traditional New York weasel. You know the one. All flash and bluster. No heart. Doesn’t care for anyone, even himself. Talks a great game, can handle any situation, and only exists in movies where the writer (Larry Cohen, who you’ll only know if you like B-movie gross out horror flicks) doesn’t really want to bother with character development. You know this character because you’ve seen him before, but why do we need to see him again? Well, because he’s the smartest thing in the movie, and no that is not a compliment.

    Stu is a publicist. Not the high powered one that he acts like of course. He is flawed, tortured even. He is married, but he calls his beautiful young client from the same pay phone every day. And this day is no different. He stops, makes the call, talks to his pseudo-girlfriend, and then a pizza delivery guy shows up and the game begins. How does the pizza guy know he’s going to be there? Because there is another New York vigilante on the loose, and out of the millions and millions of much more interesting people in New York this vigilante could have made a point of screwing with, our faceless vigilante has decided that Stu is the target today.

    Yes, a faceless vigilante. Kiefer Sutherland’s voice has a perfect pitch here, one part psychotic, one part desperate, shake well and add a dash of Jesus complex. We never really see Sutherland, and that is supposed to be some sort of hook for the film. Unfortunately he’s so much better, even in voice only, than the rest of the film that it starts to seem like a waste to keep him off screen. This establishes another running theme in the movie. Wasted talent. Farrell oozes charisma, but our vigilante systematically strips him of that charisma over the course of the flick. Forest Whitaker plays a sorta kinda sharp cop, whose contribution to the film seems to be to sweat a lot and forget the meaning of the word subtlety. Both Holmes and Mitchell are there to look beautiful and concerned. That’s what they do. That’s all they do.

    There are plot holes the size of the Hudson River here, not that we ever see the Hudson river, in fact we never really see New York. New York is not where this film is set. That’s what the opening shot tells us, that’s what it says on the sides of the cop cars. But the only people who actually think this is New York are people who think New York exists only in the movies. Like the characters in Phone Booth, this New York is sanitized, scrubbed, robbed of anything that would set it apart from any other city in any other country. It is an insult to New York to let it be the setting for a film without letting it affect the film. Schumacher doesn’t realize this though, he really thinks his New York is an improvement, prettier, smarter, faster. Sorry Joel, try again.

    Or don’t. Throughout his career Schumacher has taken interesting idea after interesting idea and muddled them up with what he imagines is style. Often his films are insulting (Falling Down), sometimes debilitating (his Batman and Robin nearly killed the franchise), usually stupid (Flatliners) and always, always, Schumacher's films are disappointing. Phone Booth continues that tradition in grand style.