Phone Booth review by Mike Long

Most movies contain a story or a plot -- some device which keeps the film moving along until the end. But, some movies are derived from a gimmick. That is, a conceit that that the film is built around, but isn't meaty enough to truly be called a story. Many short films have a gimmick, but it's rare to see a major feature film that is a "gimmick movie". Phone Booth is such a film, and it shows that there are some people in Hollywood who like to experiment in film.

Phone Booth is set in New York City. Stuart "Stu" Shepard (Colin Farrell) is a small-time PR rep who's entire career is built around hustling his clients and the media. Stu sees himself as a mover and a shaker, and longs to builds a true network of power. Each day, Stu visits a phone booth where he calls Pam (Katie Holmes), a young singer whom Stu obstensively wants to represent. In reality, Stu finds himself very attracted to Pam. But, on this day, Stu's typical salacious phone call goes awry. Once Stu ends his call to Pam, the phone in the booth rings, and Stu makes the mistake of answering the call -- a mistake that he will regret for the rest of his life.

The caller on the other end is a stranger who seems to know everything about Stu's life. He also claims to have a high-powered rifle aimed at Stu, and unless Stu does everything that he says, the caller will begin shooting. Thus begins a siege in which Stu is trapped in a phone booth, talking to a madman. Even the arrival of the police, led by Captain Ed Ramey (Forrest Whitaker), can't relieve the situation. It will be up to Stu to confront his inner demons and the sniper.

It may be an oversimplification to say that Phone Booth has no real story, as it obviously does have specifics that move the story along. (Actually, the story might be quite deep, as Stu is trapped in a booth and forced to confront his sins. Is the phone booth a confessional?) But, ultimately the gimmick is to have Stu become trapped in that phone booth, which happens in the first 15 minutes of the film. From that point on, there are a few plot twists, but the main conceit remains the same -- how will Stu get out of the phone booth. The script, by old school scirbe/director Larry Cohen (It's Alive, Q, The Winged Serpent), is very smart, and will answer most of the viewers "Why doesn't Stu (fill in the blank with brilliant idea here)?" questions.

But, more than anything, Phone Booth is about style. I've always liked the look of Joel Schumacher's film, most notably the lighting in The Lost Boys and Flatliners, but here he adds new elements to his bag of tricks. Phone Booth makes great use of spilt screens and picture-in-picture like insets to tell the story. This helps to bring in other characters and events without taking the focus off of Stu. For example, when the police arrive, instead of cutting to a new scene of the police cars approaching the phone booth, Schumacher simplys inserts a shot of this into the corner of the present scene. That way, the audience knows that the authorities are on the way, but the action involving Stu hasn't been interrupted. This style allows the filmmakers to convey much needed information to the viewer, without wasting precious time. Which is probably a good thing, as the actual film, less credits, falls under 75 minutes. Also, Schumacher, along with director of photography Matthew Libatique, have given the film a great, slightly dark look.

Having said all of that, it's hard to recommend Phone Booth for anything other than a rental. Yes, it's a good, inventive thriller, but once you've seen the film, and learn whether or not Stu gets out of that booth, there's really no reason to watch the movie again, unless you want to study Schumacher's style. And I'm not sure how Colin Farrell's fans will accept the film. Granted, he's in practically every frame of the movie, but his character is a slime-bag, and Farrell apparently had difficulty deciding what kind of accent he was going to use, as it wavers from Irish to Spanish.

Phone Booth is called up to DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The DVD contains both the widescreen and full-frame versions of the film...but why would we want to talk about the full-frame version? The widescreen side presents in the film in an anamorphic widescreen, which has been letterboxed at 2.35:1. The image is very sharp and clear, showing very little grain. The colors are excellent, as they range from the grey city streets to Stu's colorful shirt. The transfer shows few signs of artifacting, and only the occasional on-screen noise. The primary audio track on the DVD is a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Some may be disappointed that Fox didn't include a DTS track here, but the Dolby mix performs just fine. Phone Booth utilizes a very creative sound design, most notably during the inset scenes. These shots are placed at either the extreme right or left of the frame and the audio comes from the speaker on that side. There is a nice use of surround sound during the crowd scenes, and the dialogue is always clear.

Despite the fact that Phone Booth was a hit for Fox, the DVD contains only one true extra, which is an audio commentary from director Schumacher. However, this is a great extra as Schumacher gives a great deal of detail about the making of the film, the budget constraints, and how he dealt with a script that essentially takes place in one spot. The disc also includes the trailer for Phone Booth and the trailer for Alex Proyas' Garage Days. WARNING! For those of you who are seeing Phone Booth for the first time on this DVD, DO NOT view the Special Features menu before seeing the film, as it gives away some of the movie.

For a film that was shot in just 12 days, Phone Booth is a very good thriller which allows director Joel Schumacher to get arty while still producing a very commerical product.

7 out of 10 Jackasses

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