As a 30-word movie pitch, Phone Booth is bleedin' perfect: when a man answers a ringing public phone, the voice on the line tells him that if he leaves the booth, a sniper will shoot him dead. It offers tension, mystery, great thesping potential and - - best of all - - the threat of a blood bath before the end. Do it right and there isn't an audience in the world that won't be gnawing their knuckles raw.
And `right' is largely how Joel Schumacher does it. Making Phone Booth directly after 2000's Tigerland - - its release was held up first of all by 11 September, then by the Washington Sniper - - he again goes for a cheap'n'grimy style (one satellite-down-to-phone-line FX sequence and a flurry of split screens aside). Okay, so aping Midnight Cowboy's world of whores, pimps and stressed-out cops may not be original, but it's preferable to Schumacher's traditional visual gloss. Which, incidentally, he returned to with godawful terrorist thriller Bad Company.
And then there's Colin Farrell. Trapped in a phone booth, only interacting with the menacing voice of Kiefer Sutherland (yes, it's 24's Jack Bauer gone bad...), he makes lowlife media pimp Stu Shepard his own. And not just because he nails the Brooklyn accent. Over the course of 81 minutes, Farrell manages to turn Stu from reprehensible shit into a rounded human with soul. Come the end, you dearly want him to survive... And you'll be counting your blessings that more established stars like Jim Carrey, Will Smith and Tom Cruise all passed on the part.
Where the movie falls down, though, is the conclusion. As in there doesn't seem to be one. For while it's been fun hearing Kiefer's baddie smack away Stu's standard assumptions about his motivation (vengeance, Vietnam, psycho...), you can't help feeling that the filmmakers never actually worked out what did set him off...
A high-velocity thriller that misses the bull's eye, then - - but still hits the target.
It may play like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone, but Phone Booth cranks up the claustrophobic tension, with helmer Joel Schumacher making the most of a slight premise. Good call.