Phone Booth

dir. Schumacher

Opens Fri April 4

Various Theater

In Phone Booth Colin Farrell plays Stuart, a New York publicity agent who gets trapped in a phone booth by a phantom sniper (Kiefer Sutherland). Threatening to kill him if he hangs up, the sniper forces Stuart to remain on the line, then fires on innocent civilians around the phone booth, drawing a huge crowd of law enforcement officials. Stuart is quickly caught in a bind: if he hangs up, the sniper will shoot him; if he doesn't, the cops will.

The image of a man surrounded by cops in a lone phone booth in the middle of downtown New York City is striking initially, but grows mundane after an hour or so. Once the visual titillation wears off, it becomes painfully clear that Phone Booth is really nothing more than two guys talking on the phone. The sustenance of such a premise for a feature-length film demands a quality of screenwriting that even the best filmmakers would have trouble maintaining, let alone Can't-Pick-a-Script-to-Save-His-Life Schumacher. The director employs his usual swooping, gritty camera tricks to an almost nauseating degree, but can't come close to saving Phone Booth from tedious dialogue and mediocre characterization.

Farrell's silk-shirted, sleazy Stuart is second in banality only to Sutherland's bad guy, a collage of every homicidal villain who has ever toyed with their victims before killing them. Sutherland's inane performance comes replete with a devilishly giddy voice and maniacal laugh. To make matters worse, Schumacher clearly had Sutherland's voice prerecorded in a studio, as if he was afraid viewers wouldn't be able to endure the crackling hiss of a true pay phone conversation. The smooth result sounds like Sutherland is narrating the movie, with Farrell trying his best to pretend he is actually responding to him on the phone. The duo never seem to actually be talking to each other, which cuts a huge chunk from the film's much-yearned-for visceral suspense factor.

Even if Sutherland and Farrell did connect, however, this movie would be tough to sit through. There is a good film to be made from its central idea, but it has a strong story supporting it, and it's about an hour and a half shorter than Phone Booth.