I wonder how many times writer Larry Cohen has gotten the big hang-up. His story for Phone Booth trapped Collin Farrell inside Manhattan’s last standing phone booth, aware that a hang-up could result in sudden death.

Cohen’s story for Cellular finds a bright high school science teacher being held hostage in an attic, her only lifeline to the outside world the remnants of shattered phone. She gets just one chance to reach out and touch someone before the kidnappers reach out and touch her family.

Cellular, a gimmicky thriller that works solely on its brashness and unexpected wit, stars Kim Basinger as Jessica Martin, wife, mother, and teacher, whose seemingly innocuous day begins with a vicious home invasion that leaves her housekeeper dead. Imprisoned inside a dark attic, Jessica doesn’t understand why she is being held hostage. As Jessica begins to piece together the puzzle, she learns that the kidnappers have their eye on her young son Ricky.

Desperate to stop them, Jessica jury-rigs a shattered wall phone, and using her science knowledge, sends out a random call. Enter Ryan (Chris Evans), a young man dealing with his own personal baggage. Having just been dumped by his girlfriend, Ryan is looking for a little diversion. When he answers Jessica’s call for help, he gets more than he bargained for.

Like Phone Booth, Cellular relies on the audience suspending disbelief, and under David R. Ellis’ direction, we’re more than willing to go along for the ride. There are occasional moments where we have no choice but to roll up our eyes, which we find glued to the screen for the remainder of the film. Even at its most absurd, Cellular is a tidy, efficient thriller stocked with earnest performances and wicked humor.

Basinger effectively captures the range of a strong woman stripped to her barest emotions. Jessica’s introduction betrays the intensity that will engulf her life. Jessica is smart enough to understand her predicament (kidnappers never expose their identities unless they plan to kill the hostage) but is clueless as to how and why she is involved.

The kidnappers, led by ruggedly handsome Ethan (Jason Statham), don’t offer much help, except that it involves her husband, and as a safeguard, the abduction of her son. When Jessica manages to call out, she doesn’t get a knight in shining armor but a young man cruising for chicks. It’s that dynamic which makes the back-and-forth of the screenplay so engaging. Ryan isn’t a flake, but he needs convincing that he’s not the victim of a practical joke. Jessica’s plea for help is so desperate and sincere he has no choice but to further investigate.

The fun comes watching Ryan try and keep the signal: both parties know once the signal is lost, so is all hope. That finds Ryan racing all over Los Angeles, dodging traffic (and creating one hell of a traffic jam) looking for help and a stronger signal. With Collateral and now Cellular, the streets of Los Angeles are making a cinematic comeback.

Evans is an actor willing to take risks (see Not Another Teen Movie), and literally leaps through the filmmaker’s hoops. He’s called upon to take the biggest leaps of faith, and he does so with conviction and a fair amount of self-mockery. He’s cocky without being annoying. As the film’s voice of reason, William H. Macy delivers another practical performance as a veteran cop looking forward to retirement.

That doesn’t mean Sgt. Bob Mooney (Macy) isn’t up for one more case, and in Macy’s hands, we know that the victims are in good hands. Bad news for the bad guys.

Cellular isn’t a great film, but it does manage to connect with the audience despite all of the roaming charges.

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Kim Basinger, Chris Evans, Jason Statham, William H. Macy, Eric Christian Olsen, Noah Emmerich, . Directed by David R. Ellis. Rated PG-13. 92 Minutes.


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