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llrlrlt_;.l l1 PHONE BOOTH (15) 81 min COO

Great premise, cop out ending

Director Joel Schumacher had a helluva time getting Phone Booth made. Sounding like the kind of prestigious project that could do good things for wealthy Hollywood players in urgent need of credibility, this urban crime thriller attracted all kinds of A and B-list celebs - including Jim Carrey - to what is virtually a one-man show. Eventually the role of low-rent media consultant Stu Shepherd went to current It Boy in Hollywood, Colin Farrell. The film - in which Stu, for 90% of the running time, is trapped in a Manhattan phone booth by an unseen sniper - got made. Then the Washington sniper murders commenced and Phone Booth got shelved for a couple of years. Finally, it's come calling.

‘A ringing phone has to be answered, doesn’t it?’ says an intriguing voice (which sounds remarkably similar to Keifer Sutherland) to Stu after he picks up the phone in the booth. Stu’s there to talk off-mobile and out of earshot of his wife (Radha Mitchell) to an aspiring actress (Katie Holmes) on his books that he wants to shag. The caller wants to play moral conscience to Stu, threatening his captor with a bullet should he hang up, even when the police (lead by Captain Forest Whitaker) arrive and, unaware of the big picture, lay siege to the booth.

Written by the great hack Larry Cohen (writer of everything from Columbo to NYPD Blue and director of the trash classics It’s Alive and The Stuff), Phone Booth has a great central premise. Happily, the hack in Cohen doesn’t push the ringing phone/nagging conscience metaphor anywhere near pretentiousness. Unfortunately, neither does Cohen push elements of the film that might have made it so much more vital. Stu, who's initially introduced as a seedy Sidney Falco type (see Tony Curtis in Sweet Smell of Success, which film the first ten minutes of Phone Booth pay homage to), ends up as nothing worse than a wannabe philanderer - big deal. And the cop-out ending is as flat as a dial tone.

Maybe Schumacher’s to blame here. Having sold his soul to Hollywood and his nose to coke for so many years (during which he made Bratpack crap such as St Elmo’s Fire and Lost Boys before plumbing the depths with Batman & Robin), the director’s been at pains to make more credible films. The Wetnam drama figerland (which gave Farrell his big break) and the snuff movie thriller 8mm followed. But Schumacher just don’t walk the razor’s edge, and Phone Booth, just like 8mm, ultimately plays it safe. It’s a shame, because there’s a great film in Cohen’s script. Still, it lets Farrell shine. (Miles Fielder)

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,- 2.1 [-11 k] THE LIST 23