Wednesday, April 9, 2003

Phone Booth

Posted By and on Wed, Apr 9, 2003 at 12:00 AM

Geezer: 3 stars / Weezer: 2 stars

Paranoia strikes deep in Phone Booth, though its 90 minutes of screen time boil down to some inconclusive conclusions. Joel Schumacher, best known for directing Batman installments #3 and #4 (the less interesting ones), is at the controls, with a script by veteran scenarist Larry Cohen – so the competency level is there. But this thriller about Stu Shepard (Colin Farrell), a cocky and deceitful publicist trapped in a midtown-Manhattan phone booth by a sniper (voice of Kiefer Sutherland), leaves unanswered questions. When a strip-club proprietor winds up dead in front of the booth, Stu finds himself surrounded by NYPD blue. And as the tension rises, credibility stretches with it.

Weezer: It’s a pretty innovative script, with an intimate setup. We’re stuck in this phone booth for almost the entire film, right there up-close to everything. But the camera can still run wild on the New York streets.

Geezer: When we were going in, you said that if this movie was going to be an hour and a half of a guy in a phone booth, then it better have good dialogue.

Weezer:It’s pretty good, though the head cop (Forest Whitaker), who’s so open with Stu about his psychological problems, is a little off-the-wall. I know he’s trying to get in Stu’s head and relate to him so he can resolve the standoff, but when he’s so sincere about the problems he’s having with his own wife, that’s a load of crap … although there’s some witty banter between Stu and the sniper on the phone.

Geezer: This film is about morality, but what kind? American Christianity?

Weezer: They allude to that at the end, about confessing your sins before you die. The sniper asks, “Why did you confess, since you knew I wasn’t going to let you go?” And Stu says, “I didn’t confess for you.” This guy, with his voice over the phone and his rifle from above, is making himself like God. He can take your life away anytime he wants. He wants you to repent, to tell the truth, and if you don’t do his will, he’ll remove you from this realm.

Geezer: Doesn’t that stretch credibility to the breaking point?

Weezer: I don’t think it breaks. There are some little inconsistencies and others more substantial, but you get so caught up in the relationship between Stu, the sniper and the cops that you kind of toss those aside.

Geezer: Phone Booth is like a theater piece with an absurd situation and strong acting. It’s not hard to imagine it getting produced on an off-Broadway stage.

Weezer: As far as the acting goes, nothing’s lacking about Farrell’s performance. I just don’t believe Whitaker’s character — that’s a poorly written role.

Geezer: I felt that way about the sniper, the things he says and the way his voice sounds. That feeling of omniscience is a little too pat, as if he was the narrator on a TV show. He sounds more like a voice-over than a guy on a phone, which adds to the feeling of God’s all-seeing, all-knowing power.

Weezer: And what about those cops?

Geezer: Whenever I see cops running into position with that fucked-up look on their face — like here come the out-of-control robots aiming their guns, ready to shoot — that just pisses me off.

Weezer: Well, the film wants you to be pissed off. It’s referring to those real-life cases where the cops flip a guy over and what does he have in his hand? A cell phone or his wallet — and they’ve shot him 20-some times.

Geezer: About 50 sharpshooters and patrolmen aim their guns at Stu. They don’t see a gun in his hand. There’s nowhere for him to run, because they’ve got him surrounded. Are they afraid or just itching to shoot him?

Weezer: It’s the crowd of regular civilians gathered on the street who protect him more than the cops do.

Geezer: This film’s weakness is that it gives us so little idea about the sniper’s motivation. If he’s killing dishonest people, why does he choose lowlifes like Stu? What about all the high-level liars? And is Stu’s dishonesty worse than the rapes and murders that fill the news?

Weezer: The sniper seems to be acting out of something like envy, which doesn’t make him god-like or above it all.

Geezer: But we never find out and that makes Phone Booth annoying, despite its strengths.

George Tysh (Geezer) is the Metro Times arts editor. Bruno Tysh (Weezer) is a high school senior. E-mail them at gtysh@metrotimes.com.

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