Phone Booth


Directed by: Joel Schumacher
Written by:Larry Cohen
Starring: Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland, Forest Whitaker, Radha Mitchell, Katie Holmes
Released: May 22, 2003
Grade: C

A great idea in theory but poor execution in practice.  I heard about Larry Cohen’s script many years ago and the idea sounded fascinating – a thriller set entirely within a phone booth where a guy cannot leave or he’ll be killed.  Given there’s only one location, there was a lot of early debating as to whether the audience’s attention could be held.  Several directors and several actors were drawn to the difficult project but the final contract was signed by director Joel Schumacher (Falling Down) and actor Colin Farrell (Minority Report).  The two had worked previously together on the brilliant, but seldom seen flick, Tigerland.

Stu Shepard (Farrell) is a publicist with an attitude.  His clothing, his demeanour and his arrogance all give the appearance of success but it turns out that someone thinks Stu is a pretty shitty guy.  He gives false hope to his clients, he lies to his friends, he doesn’t pay his assistant, and there’s more.  Despite being happily married to Kelly (Mitchell), he has developed a crush on a client, Pamela (Holmes).  Each day, he calls Pamela from a phone booth on West 53rd street so that his wife won’t see the number on his mobile phone bill.

As he finishes his latest conversation with Pamela and hangs up the phone, it begins ringing.  Stu picks it up and finds a creepy male voice at the other end.  To make sure he has Stu’s attention, the unknown caller reels off details of Stu’s life and details of his calls with Pamela.  Stu understands the danger he is in when the caller says he has a rifle aimed at the phone booth and just to show he isn’t kidding around, he kills an innocent bystander.  There’s no choice but to stay on the line to see what the demands are.

With a dead man on the street, the police arrive and suspect Stu is the killer.  With the phone booth surrounded, they ask Stu to give himself up but the voice on the other end has more plans in store.  Stu must not leave the booth and must not say anything about their conversation or else he will die.  With two different enemies now pointing guns at him, it seems there’s no hope for Stu but to listen  to the caller’s demands… 

The most ironic piece of trivia here is that writer Larry Cohen pitched the idea of a film set in a phone booth to Alfred Hitchcock in the 1960s.  Apparently, Hitchcock loved the idea but they could not think of a reason to keep the film confined to the booth.  Cohen’s idea of the sniper came to him only a few years ago and he penned the script within a month.  The irony lies in that fact that Hitchcock was right – this cannot work as a film.  Cohen’s screenplay is terribly weak and the sequence of events and mind reading attributes given to the characters are too hard to believe.  Far-fetched is an understatement.

Further proof of the film’s limitation is found in its length.  Including both the opening and closing credits, you’re going to find only 81 minutes of viewing time.  If you take out the obvious padding, you’d be lucky to find an hour’s worth of entertainment.  So much time is wasted in the booth where all Stu need do is asking “what do I have to do to get out of this situation?”

Colin Farrell is the only performance worth reviewing and he’s admirable without being exceptional.  Those hoping to see Katie Holmes and Australian Radha Mitchell should save themselves for the video release as they’re seldom seen.  If you’re trying to figure it out, Keifer Sutherland provides the voice of the sniper but I’m not sure if the strange echo to his voice is necessary.

Filmed in just 12 days, Phone Booth needed more substance before being green lighted.  Should you be invited by a friend to see it, the first and best choice should be to just hang up.