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CELLULAR (director: David R. Ellis; screenwriters: Chris Morgan/story by Larry Cohen; cinematographer: Gary Capo; editor: Eric A. Sears; music: John Ottman; cast: Kim Basinger (Jessica Martin), Chris Evans (Ryan), Jason Statham (Ethan), Eric Christian Olsen (Chad), Matt McColm (Deason), Noah Emmerich (Jack Tanner), William H. Macy (Sgt. Mooney), Brendan Kelly (Mad Dog), Eric Etebari (Dimitri), Jessica Biel (Chloe), Richard Burgi (Craig Martin), Adam Taylor Gordon (Ricky Martin), Rick Hoffman (Lawyer); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Dean Devlin/Lauren Lloyd; New Line Cinema; 2004)
“It’s perfecto as escapist moviegoer fare.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

David R. Ellis (“Final Destination II”) directs this silly crime thriller based on an idea by Larry Cohen, with a screenplay by Chris Morgan. Though the premise and the plot line are illogical the unpretentious acting is fine, the pace is fast and furious, and there are both amusing and chilling moments. It’s perfecto as escapist moviegoer fare for those in need of a film heavy on chase scenes, cell phones, heavies, heroics from unlikely heroes, and B-movie madcap action.

Jessica Martin (Kim Basinger) is a high school science teacher living in a Brentwood mansion with her wealthy realtor hubby Craig and 11-year-old son Ricky (Adam Taylor Gordon). After walking with her son to the school bus, Jessica is confronted in her house by five armed men who break-in and execute her housekeeper and kidnap her. Jessica is taken to a safe house somewhere in the hills of Los Angeles and locked in the attic but left untied; the wall phone in the room is smashed with a sledge hammer by the nasty stone-faced gang leader Ethan (Jason Statham). She’s confused thinking they might have mistaken her for someone else, but the vicious men only threaten to kidnap her hubby and son unless she cooperates and gives them what they want. Left alone, she manages to put the smashed phone back in some kind of working order with just the dangling wires and makes an emergency call that reaches a bewildered surfer boy, Ryan (Chris Evans), on his cell phone while he’s riding in his Bronco. Ryan is upset because his civic minded Santa Monica beach girl, Chloe, dumped him because he’s “irresponsible, self-centered and childish.” He is trying to get back on her good side by having his best friend help her distribute leaflets on the beach for her latest cause.

Jessica has a hard time convincing Ryan that what she’s telling him is true, but the slacker twenty-something decides to give her the benefit of the doubt when he hears the urgency in her voice and follows her advice to report it to a police station. The veteran desk sergeant, Mooney (William H. Macy), takes down the info but leaves him when a fracas breaks out in the building. Unable to find anyone else to help, Ryan goes on his own to try and prevent the kidnappers from snatching the schoolboy and hubby. Ryan has trouble communicating with the victim because of the bad connection and rude inhabitants of the city, and then his cell phone battery goes dead. But our hero secures a cell phone charger by pointing a gun at the cellphone store clerk, borrowing without permission the private school’s security car and then carjacking a Porsche from an obnoxious effeminate lawyer (Rick Hoffman), and getting more deeply involved by going all over the LA map to try and save the family.

William H. Macy is hysterical as the timid but conscientious cop who experiments with a facial mud pack for his day spa he plans to open when he soon retires. But the plot couldn’t even offer up a semi-reasonable explanation for the kidnappers’ action and why the Martin family head knowing what he possessed didn’t go to the police before the kidnapping. If you care to overlook all the holes in the plot line, which I chose to do, the film was entertaining in a goofy sort of wireless way as a companion piece to “Phone Booth”–also written by Larry Cohen.

REVIEWED ON 9/13/2004 GRADE: B –

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”