Archive for the ‘Phone Booth’ Category

148 – Phone Booth

October 20, 2003

It was quite a intriguing premise, really. A man answers a ringing phone in a booth in which he’s just made a call. A man’s voice promises that if he hangs up or leaves the booth, he’ll be shot dead. If you were that man, would you have the nerve to hang up?

What if you further found out what the potential killer wanted, and it wasn’t money or anything on your person? What if he wanted you to apologize for something?

Stu Shepard (Colin Farrell) is a hotshot New York publicist who systematically walks over everyone he meets and lies to those who can help him. He’s been carrying on an affair with a struggling actress named Pam (Katie Holmes, looking cute as a button as always) while married to Kelly (Radha Mitchell). In fact, he’s just gotten off the phone with Pam when the phone rings ominously. “A ringing phone must be answered,” we’re told as the movie opens, although I’m not so certain that’s true. I myself feel no strong urge to answer a ringing pay phone, as it’s generally not for me.

But Stu does answer it, and the voice on the other end (Kiefer Sutherland) has him in his trap. Hang up, you die. But it’s not long before other people are involved – otherwise, it’d be a quick or at least awfully dull movie – and sure enough a group of prostitutes wants to use the phone. Only Stu can’t hang up, so they get their pimp Leon to take care of things. Leon smashes in the side of the booth, and the killer – provoked according to his own code of what is bad and what is not – shoots him down from above, although we never know quite where.

And that’s what really gets things going. Soon the prosties are getting the cops, and there’s a big standoff, with Stu still clinging to the phone, refusing to give it up. Of course, the killer is telling him what to say to the cops, warning him that if he doesn’t comply, Stu will be killed. In the interests of self-preservation, Stu does comply.

Interestingly enough, the killer’s complaints about Stu center around his perceived selfishness, his look-out-for-number-one attitude. And yet it’s that very attitude that keeps Stu alive. If he were the Good Boy that the killer wishes he were (he wants Stu to atone for his past transgressions, such as lying to his wife), then Stu would have been dead. Life’s funny sometimes, ain’t it?

Of course, the police have no idea there’s a killer on the other end of the phone. They’re operating under the assumption that Stu killed the pimp, and that he’s armed. In most movies where there’s a police standoff, the cops might act a little differently, choosing instead to rush the phone booth. But the cop contingent is led here by Captain Ramey, played by an earnest Forest Whitaker. Whitaker is always a treat to watch, with his hangdog eyes and self-serious expression. He’s easily the best part of this otherwise tepid film (much as he was in last year’s Panic Room). Ramey instead chooses to
talk Stu down, to discern what the actual threat is. His character is thoughtful but tough, choosing to place himself in danger.

The movie runs only 81 minutes, but it’s still too long and probably would have been better served as an episode of an anthology series, like the old Twilight Zone or Outer Limits series. It’s interesting to see the character development of Stu Sheperd, but in the end the viewer still doesn’t care too much about him.

Phone Booth: **