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Cellular (2004)
Director: David R. Ellis

review by Noell Wolfgram Evans

In the 1930s and 1940s there were 'A' movies and 'B' movies. A-movies were of course top-notch productions with the stars of the moment while the B-movies were the extra treat - add on films with fading stars or gimmicky stories somewhat loosely told. Cellular, directed by David Ellis, carries on that B grade tradition, combining the best elements of the genre into one complete, if not always coherent piece. The film stars Kim Basinger as a kidnapped woman, desperately trying to find help for herself, and her family that she fears are in great danger. And how would a kidnapped person find help? Through a phone, of course. And how would a kidnapped woman find help in the movies? By capitalising on a freak wiring accident to call someone's cell phone, a cell phone with a dying battery. And there you have it. Sure there are chases and scares and thrills but Verizon is what really holds the movie together. There is a great opportunity here to play on our reliance for technology, but the film unfortunately plays the phone for more gimmick than metaphor.

The storywriter of Cellular is Larry Cohen. He also wrote 2002's Phone Booth, another story where the real star was a phone. I'm not sure what the fascination is with him or why we needed two separate stories to play it out, perhaps if the scripts were combined, there might have been more suspense. For a man obviously so enamoured with the phone, it's amazing that none of his characters have the same respect or working knowledge of them. For example, it never occurs to anyone to call 911? Sure you can harp that then we wouldn't have a movie, and I'm willing to suspend my disbelief whenever I can, but when things attempt to portray a realistic situation with unrealistic means, the plausibility becomes too much.

This is not at all to say that phone gimmicks or any other type of gimmick can't work in a film. It's just that for it to become anything more, it needs to be driven by solid acting. And not even anything of Shakespearean calibre, but acting that understands the material and can provide the tone that is appropriate to seeing it through. Glancing at her film credits, one would think that Ms Basinger would be perfect for a role in a film like this. These would be titles that scream B-movie, like The Getaway, Final Analysis, and My Stepmother Is An Alien. Unfortunately I suspect the producers never looked any further than the titles or else they might have had some different casting thoughts. This is a movie that doesn't really need any big name stars; in fact it might actually be a determent to the film. The addition of a star, especially an Oscar winning one, can put a certain level of expectation into an audience's mind that is hard to overcome. Why not fill a role like Basinger's with a new actress, giving her a chance and letting the gimmick drive the film. As it is, the role and - in some way by default - the movie too, is Basinger's to own.

I imagined watching this film with Joan Cusack, Minnie Driver, Gloria Stewart and Julianne Moore who all lost out to Basinger for the 1997 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. I wondered what they would think and how many times I would hear teeth clench as they watched this performance and thought of that fateful night seven years ago. At the time, that Oscar was somewhat of a surprise and that surprise has not diminished with time. The rest of the cast is filled out with capable players including the always-interesting William H. Macy.

Cellular is a definite B style movie, and that's in the lesser sense of the term. While it's always good to see a movie on the big screen, there's also a reason that cable TV was invented.
Cellular

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William H. Macy in Cellular




Kim Basinger in Cellular

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