Cellular has an interesting pedigree. The taut, simple thriller was written by none other than Larry Cohen (well, the story anyway, screenplay credit goes to Chris Morgan who would go on to pen movies like Wanted and Fast Five). You don't know who that is? Cohen is well known among the cult and horror crowds with films such as It's Alive, Q, The Stuff, and Maniac Cop. He occasionally makes forays into more mainstream fare, and this 2004 feature is one of those times. It does not have the gore quotient or cult aspect of much of his earlier work, but it does feature an energetic, if simple, story, that believes in the kindness of strangers.
On the surface, the movie is reminiscent of the Colin Farell film Phone Booth, released just two years earlier. This really isn't surprising as Larry Cohen wrote that film as well. It seems as if Cohen was trying to explore the place of phones in our lives and how we interact with those on the other end, not to mention the mystery of answering a call not knowing who is on the other end.
Cellular is a lean, stripped down film that is not so much about the plot as it is about constant forward motion. There are very few moments where the pace lets up enough for you to catch your breath. This is probably for the best, as the movie is pretty unbelievable if you try to imagine it existing in the real world.
The movie kicks off right from the get go. Jessica Martin (Kim Basinger) has no sooner put her son on the school bus, than a group of gun toting thugs break into her house and kidnap her. Jessica is thrown into a mostly-bare attic, save for a broken phone. Using remnants of the phone, she begins to randomly dial numbers hoping to get somebody; she does. On the other end is Ryan (Chris Evans), a young guy who thinks it's a prank call. I mean, who wouldn't? If I get a call from a woman saying she has been kidnapped, I am not likely to believe it either. Fortunately, our hero becomes convinced of the reality of the situation and now must make not to lose the call while trying to find help.
The plot is not what makes this movie work; it is a pretty cookie-cutter tale. I mean it is a pretty standard kidnapping plot with the bad guys having a hidden motive. Can you say boring? I thought so. What makes this movie work is the concept, the idea of having to keep the call connected. It is an interesting idea that requires a degree of personal involvment. You have this single line of communication open and if that is lost, it is very likely you will never be able to find her.
We are taken through some interesting technology driven problems. There is the dying battery and the need to find a charger, crossed cell pone signals, poor reception among others. They offer a unique obstacle that is different than how cell phones are usually treated in movies (you know, the "no signal" bit to take them out of play).
The other interesting aspect of the story is the reliance on a stranger to go above and beyond the call of duty. Cellular believes in the innate goodness of people and that we are willing to step outside of ourselves and do something for the benefit of a stranger, in this case taken to the extreme. Ryan is initially shown to be immature and only willing to help if it helps him get what he wants. The phone call puts him to the test, giving him the opportunity to step beyond his own wants. It is nice to see as the movie shows that it may be all right to have some faith in humanity.
David R. Ellis (Final Destination 2) directed the film and has succeeded in creating a fun movie that is easy to watch, yet provides some interesting substance. Ellis gets some nice shots with some interesting angles and camera moves, he knows how to put a pretty picture up on the screen.
The cast does a good job at bringing this movie to life, even if the characters are pretty much one dimensional. Evans, as Ryan, does a good job here playing the guy connected to a cell phone and and showing the lengths he will go to for a stranger.
Basinger does a good job as our woman in peril, but I found her voice to be a little off. I can't quite put my finger on it, but the quality was strange. Our main bad guy is portrayed by Jason Statham, he can exude cold menace and tough guy cool at the same time, although he doesn't get much to do here. He makes the most of it. Rounding out the primary cast is William H. Macy, solid every time out. He plays a weary cop who seems to be spinning his wheels in his personal, but with this case finds something to latch onto, reminding him of why he's a cop.
The movie is not without ridiculous moments, for example think about out where our kidnap victim is kept. Jessica is placed in an attic with a phone on the wall, now ask yourself "Why would the kidnapper put her in a room with a phone?" The answer is so that he can come back and smash it. Now, wouldn't it have been easier to just take the phone out of the room? If this was your house, would you break your phone? It's done because it is necessary for the rest of the plot. In the grand scheme of things, I am all right with it as it allows the rest of the movie to happen.
Audio/Video. The movie is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and it looks quite good. The movie is all bright colors and sunlight and it is all captured very well in the high definition frame. There is a lot of fine detail, be it in clothing, faces, or cars. With the way the sun shines throughout he film you are never a a loss to see good detail. In the few dark sequences, detail does not go away. Overall, this is a one looking transfer that does its film sure proud.
The audio is presented in a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that does a good job of bringing the movie to life. It is not a wildly active track, but it makes good use of the sound field, with cars rushing by and a few moments of crunching metal. Dialogue is front and center as it should be and there are some nice booming gunshots during the climax.
- Commentary. The track features director David Ellis, associate producer Tawny Ellis, and assistant stunt coordinator Anne Ellis. Along with these three there are more called in via cell phone. It is an gimmick tied into the film (duh), but it is kind of clever and the track is kind of fun.
- Deleted scenes. There are five cut bits here. Nothing special, but always interesting to see.
- Celling Out. This probably best skipped, unless you want to hear old school ideas of cell phones. It comes across as rather antiquated these days, although it was probably more timely in 2005.
- Dialing up Cellular. This is a pretty good making of with interviews with all of the principal players and a bunch of behind the scenes footage.
- Code of Silence. It starts with a spoiler warning and goes on to discuss some real world inspiration for the story.
Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Cellular on Blogcritics.