Director: Joel Schumacher
Starring: Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland
Runtime: 80 minutes
Apparently screenwriter Larry Cohen was given this script by the master, Alfred Hitchcock, about 30 years ago. Excellent. Yet one may ask why, given all the time he has had, he could not spot the glaring holes that rip through the script like….well, like a bullet through a phone box?
The idea is a rather fascinating one, and the mix of communication, violence and urban paranoia is particularly well suited to our times. A man enters a phone box in the heart of New York and soon after finds himself unable to leave when he answers a call and is informed that if he does so, the sniper at the other end of the line will shoot him. In addition to leaving the booth, telling anyone who he’s talking to and hanging up are also actions punishable by death. Indeed, rather too suited to our times in fact, as such was the nature of the plot that the film’s release date was delayed not merely once, but twice; first owing to the attacks on the World Trade Centre and then again. One can only imagine the studio’s groans when a psycho took to the streets of Washington, D.C. armed with, yes, a sniper rifle.
The man in the booth is one Stu Shephard. His Patrick Bateman esque persona of the sharp suited, hyper-shit spurting PR guy is suitably slimy for a guy who has been visiting the pay phone daily to make predatory calls to a young would-be actress (Katy Holmes), with whom he has not yet done the dirty, but has every intention of doing so. The thing is, our man Stu is married, and neither his wife or would be love-thing have any knowledge of the other. However, the friendly neighbourhood sniper, who has been targeting such well dressed Manhattan scumbag/love rat figures, possesses an intimate knowledge of both women and indeed Shephard’s every move. He is familiar with our protagonist’s daily activites, right down to his practice of removing his wedding ring for the conversations. Oh the guilt!
Using only one main location, Schumacher does well to hold the audience’s interest. His penchant for fast cuts is well suited to the material and he keeps the camera well trained on the man whose cool, and indeed life, is disintegrating before our eyes, reverting to split screen when there’s anyone for him to share it with, allowing us to savour every new grain of sweat and grimace to cross Farrells face.
Ah, yes, Mr Farrell. As the plot suggests, it really is left to Ballykissangel’s finest to carry the film, as, the faceless sniper and Hollywood rent-a-cop aside, he really is the only major character. He does so impeccably, yet is made to earn his dollars as the film take a swift turn from the ridiculous to the ludicrous. This is a plot that really leaves the viewer frustrated, for no matter how many braincells you exchange for your popcorn, overpriced beverage and ‘artistic lisence’, there are just too many points where you are left exasperated, this just would not happen. Technology, police practice, public behaviour and common sense are just some of the hurdles that the film crashes into in spectacular style.
Luckily for us, Schumacher does keep it tight, maintains the pace and thus our interest as we forget our cherished knowledge of cop action and settle back into our seats as the action continues. It also helps that the film is a mere 80 minutes long. Another minute really would have been too long. We are left with a spectacularly bad and rather unplausible twist along with a side helping of good ol marital values firmly in place, all thanks to local psycho.
This could have been a brilliant action thriller, perfect for a Saturday night at the movies. Instead, it will suffice as a pastime for a lecture-avoiding York afternoon.
Phonebooth: an excellent premise, a rather average film.