2004-10-01 / Columnists

‘Cellular’ – Kidnapped Caller

Remember the old joke about the fortune cookie? A patron at a Chinese restaurant breaks open his cookie and, instead of reading his “future,” he sees the message, “Help, I’m being held captive in a Chinese fortune cookie factory.”

The new suspense thriller, “Cellular,” has a similar premise. A California surfer dude, Ryan (Chris Evans), receives a strange call on his cell phone. It’s an hysterical woman named Jessica Martin (Kim Basinger) pleading, “Help, I’ve been kidnapped.”

Ryan, who’s driving his SUV in Santa Monica, has no idea who belongs to this desperate voice and, at first, assumes it’s a joke. Although Jessica lives in a posh Brentwood home and has her young son in private school, she is a simple biology teacher and claims to be penniless. “I don’t know why I’ve been kidnapped. My husband’s a realtor. We have no money.”

 Despite a brutal opening abduction scene, such dialogue makes you wonder whether what you’re watching is a comedy. It isn’t. But the Chris Morgan script and Larry “Phone Booth” Cohen story is full of laughs. It’s also full of a lot of action and suspense packed into 89 minutes, with Ryan going to any and all lengths to keep Jessica on the line to save her, her son and her husband’s lives.

In addition, much fun is supplied by William H. Macy as police Sergeant Bob Mooney, who reluctantly becomes drawn into the drama. After 27 years on the force, he’s trying to retire and start a day spa with his overbearing wife. However, his instincts get the better of him when Ryan races into police headquarters with his wild story.

Directed by David R. Ellis, the film’s breakneck pace could be seen as a means to mask relentless implausible plot twists. How can Jessica cross wires on a smashed rotary phone and ring Ryan’s cell? Why is there a rotary phone in the attic of the secret house where Jessica’s being hidden? How does Ryan record the cell number of kidnapper Ethan (Jason Statham) when Ethan never called him? Why doesn’t Ryan call 911 from a pay phone, while keeping Jessica on the cell line?

Basically, to enjoy “Cellular” you must hang up on common sense. Nonetheless, it’s an exciting thrill ride, which makes a major star turn for Chris Evans.

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