Cellular, 2004, 2 ½ stars

Colonel Mustard in the billiard room        with a cell phone

From OrlandoCityBeat.com, September 10, 2004

The cell phone has invaded almost every part of our lives, so it’s only fitting that it should finally get a starring role in a motion picture. It gets the title role in Cellular, the new kidnap caper starring Kim Basinger, which is neither a great thriller nor a great comedy, but just competent enough at both genres to stay interesting.

Basinger plays Jessica Martin, a mild-mannered and boringly one-dimensional mother who is kidnapped in an attempt to steal something of value from her home. Both she and the audience have to wait a while to find out whether it’s a case of mistaken identity or whether Jessica, her husband or young son really have anything the kidnappers want.

Enter Chris Evans (Not Another Teen Movie) as Ryan, a 20-something surfer dude with almost anything on his mind except trying to free Jessica from the clutches of murdering thugs. But that’s exactly the task that is thrown upon him when Jessica repairs a busted phone in the attic in which she’s imprisoned and manages to reach just one number at random: Ryan’s cell phone.

After debating briefly whether the call is genuine, Ryan first approaches the police but then with little explanation or motivation chooses to try to save Jessica himself. Although we never really understand why, we’re led to believe that if Ryan loses his connection with Jessica, she will die. More importantly, if the connection is lost, the cell phone may get less screen time, and that would be a shame as it gives a more realistic performance than Basinger.

The film’s first half lurches between comedy, complete with scenes of bikini babes on the Santa Monica peer, and what is supposed to be a suspense. Because of the wild stylistic changes, the bad performance by Basinger and the preposterous assumption that Ryan would risk his own life to save a woman he has never seen, the film does little right in the early going. But then something happens: You start to inexplicably enjoy yourself.

This enjoyment occurs not just because Evans gives an animated and sympathetic performance but because director David Ellis, whose previous experience is limited to directing bad sequels and coordinating movie stunts, gets the balance between light and dark correct. Although it’s more on par with The Whole Nine Yards than Pulp Fiction, Cellular has a surprising originality and a fair number of remotely clever twists.

Add to this off-beat mix the magic of William H. Macy as a cop who stumbles upon the crime, the stern creepiness of Jason Statham (Snatch) as the head kidnapper and the quiet competence of Noah Emmerich (The Truman Show) as Macy’s boss, and things start to click. Sure, it’s light and meaningless at times, but Evans and Macy successfully battle their way through some awkward lines and badly scored chase scenes, adding humor and even some dramatic tension along the way.

Cellular, with its mix of quirkiness and eclectic intrigue, is much like its title character: It can be annoying, juvenile and unfulfilling, but somehow you just can’t put it down.