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 allows 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.