Phone Booth

Remember the good old days when if you wanted to get someone in trouble, you would “drop a dime” on them. Thanks to the prolific rise of cellular phones, calling plans, and exuberant pay phone charges, “dropping a dime” on someone has lost all its meaning.

Yet that’s what gets smarmy New York publicist Stewart “call me Stu” Shepard in trouble. Cautious not to place any calls to his girlfriend on his cell phone, just in case his wife checks the bill, Stu utilizes the only phone booth left standing in Times Square. Sensitive to the commitment he made to his trusting wife Kelly (Radha Mitchell), Stu removes his wedding ring while making calls to aspiring actress/waitress Pamela McFadden (Katie Holmes).

To everyone who knows him, Stu is a shark in silk suits, a self-absorbed, obnoxious agent totally oblivious to the old adage that he better be nice to people on his climb up, because he’s going to meet them again when he takes a fall. He doesn’t really love Pamela, just the idea that he’s handsome enough and successful enough to sleep with her. It’s just another in a long line of mind games that Stu plays.

Unfortunately for Stu, someone else likes playing mind games too, and he has a high-powered scope rifle aimed directly at him. Trapped inside the phone booth, with a mad man on the other end of the line, ready to kill him if he doesn’t obey his every word, Stu has no choice but to sit and beg.. Payback is a bitch, and in “Phone Booth,” one with a flair for the dramatic.

Occasionally absurd and preposterous, “Phone Booth” features Irish actor Colin Farrell delivering a powerful and passionate performance, one that holds the very fabric of this short but gripping goody bag together. Shot more than a year ago and delayed from a 2002 Fall release in order to dodge a publicity bullet of its own, “Phone Booth” is a spiffy little morality tale told with the utmost conviction an actor can muster.

Thanks to a sharp screenplay by Larry Cohen, “Phone Booth” rings up a fair amount of suspense and pathos, turning a vile, almost despicable character into a human being that we can eventually root for. At first sight, Stu is the kind of person most people avoid. He’s brash, manipulative and selfish. He strings along a young assistant, who is oblivious that his master is never going to give him the respect or money that he’s due. He plays his clients off each other, hoping that his power pyramid scheme never comes back to bite him in the ass.

It does, big time, and thanks to tight-knit direction by Joel Schumacher, who effectively convinces us what we are watching could actually take place, we find ourselves absorbed over the plight of someone we would have immediately dismissed. What starts off as a typical day for Stu turns deadly when he hangs up after his daily plea to Pamela. Before he has the chance to exit the booth, the phone rings. Now most people would ignore it, but Stu isn’t most people, and that’s his downfall.

On the other end is a mysterious voice that not only seems to know everything about Stu, his life, and his indiscretions, but also proves with deadly accuracy that he is in control. First the mystery man takes out a toy robot, then a street pimp. Stu doesn’t need any more convincing, but the police do when they arrive and assume he’s the shooter. Fortunately for us and Stu, Cohen doesn’t drag this charade on too long, which would be an insult to everyone’s intelligence.

Instead, Cohen turns the table on Stu, forcing him to use the phone booth as a confessional, admitting to the hordes of news crews, his wife and Pamela what a fake he is. It’s a powerful, emotional moment, one that Farrell nails with accuracy. Suddenly we care about Stu, and whether or not he’ll get out of this nightmare. Delivered in real time, director Schumacher uses split screens to invite the rest of the world into Stu’s very little corner of the world. Every second counts, and as audience members, we find ourselves counting them down.

It’s Farrell’s show, but the supporting players add just the right amount of depth and dimension. Forrest Whitaker is sympathetic as the detective in charge of the operation, while Radha Mitchell (“Pitch Black”) and Katie Holmes (“Abandon”) are perfect choices for the women in Stu’s life. Hiding behind the mystery voice is Kiefer Sutherland, whose inflections are absolutely chilling.

IN THE CROSS HAIRSColin Farrell connects with powerful “Phone Booth”


Colin Farrell, Forrest Whitaker, Kiefer Sutherland, Katie Holmes, Radha Mitchell. Directed by Joel Schumacher. 83 Minutes. Rated R.


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