The makers of “Cellular” may think that their movie couldn’t have been made before the cell phone era, but its plot involving a Los Angeles kidnapping — a man who knew too much and innocents drawn into the fray — is merely a tepid recycling of old film noir chestnuts. And because plot is the sum total here, the alarming holes, inconsistencies and impossibilities in Chris Morgan’s script corrode this drama of distress. Auds will sense the B-pic nonsense early on, sending pic to an early B.O. disconnect, with better signals in ancillary.
Screenwriter Larry Cohen wrote the original script (now retaining only story credit) as a kind of companion to his “Phone Booth,” and his basic premise remains — a guy receives call on his cell from a kidnapped woman and must remain on the line if he’s to stay in touch with her. Long associated with producer Dean Devlin, who had intended this to be his tyro directing effort until turning reins over to action-horror specialist David R. Ellis (“Final Destination 2”), “Cellular” has none of Cohen’s trademark subversive humor nor other qualities that would explain attracting the likes of Kim Basinger and William H. Macy.
Kidnappers led by Ethan (Jason Statham) nab Brentwood mom and high school science teacher Jessica (Basinger) from her home, toss her in a basement of their lair and plan to also grab her son Ricky (Adam Taylor Gordon).
A seemingly unrelated comic respite on Santa Monica Pier establishes callow youth Ryan (Chris Evans) and his knack for grabbing vid-pics on his cell phone. Being vets of “Baywatch” production crews, Ellis and lenser Gary Capo appear to imagine the pier as a site for “Baywatch: The New Generation,” already compromising pic’s seeming intention to display a wide swathe of the real Los Angeles.
Far more problematic is how Jessica is able to not only get a dial tone from a phone bashed to smithereens by Ethan, but, by somehow knowing to tap two exposed wires together, she’s able to dial numbers that amazingly reach … Ryan’s cell phone. After his initial skepticism, Ryan doesn’t hang up, but goes to the local police station to report the kidnapping to desk cop Mooney (Macy), who’s on the verge of retiring and opening a day spa –one of several pallid jokes .
Ryan is soon on a wild pursuit of the kidnappers, whose threats and plans he’s conveniently able to pick up on his end of the line, and the rather unsubtle twist is that he must be forced to continually break the law (including a belabored carjacking of the world’s most obnoxious lawyer) in order to rescue Jessica . A whole roster of felonious stunts doesn’t prevent Ricky and husband Craig (Richard Burgi) from also being kidnapped, but Ryan, like a true prototype for a Hollywood hero, grows a spine before aud’s eyes.
What drives Ryan down the stretch is triggered by the sort of nasty secret that’s such a stock element of Los Angeles noir that it’s sheer predictability is a bummer. For his part, Macy, in an actor’s holiday from his typically more serious projects, presents the movie’s only interesting human dimension as an aging, bored cop forced to jump back into action. Evans is likeable but so incredibly capable under incredible circumstances that — like the ever-burdensome plot around him — he can’t be taken seriously. Basinger’s role stands as a major comedown from her recent heights in “The Door in the Floor.”
Slick production values, sun-drenched widescreen images and a roster of cartoonish folks tied to their cells or cars fills out a thoroughly cliched portrait of Los Angeles, whose geographic realities, as crucial here as in “Collateral,” are routinely violated.