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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Phone Booth (2003)

"Take responsibility for what you've done, Stu. Be a man."
- The Caller (Kiefer Sutherland)

Review By: David Krauss   
Published: July 27, 2003

Stars: Colin Farrell, Forest Whitaker, Katie Holmes, Radha Mitchell, Kiefer Sutherland
Director: Joel Schumacher

MPAA Rating: R for (pervasive language and some violence)
Run Time: 01h:20m:54s
Release Date: July 08, 2003
UPC: 024543080480
Genre: suspense thriller


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B BBB+ C+

DVD Review

Phone Booth might well do for public phones what Psycho did for showers—make people avoid them like the plague. For after watching Colin Farrell get hung up, dressed down and mentally tortured by a crazed serial sniper, who wouldn't run to the nearest cellular retailer and sign a multi-year contract? At times ridiculously implausible and overblown, Phone Booth possesses that kernel of truth that creeps under the skin and unnerves us, against our better judgment. Who among us hasn't innocently answered a ringing pay phone just for kicks? Would we think twice about it after seeing this film? You bet.

At a mere 81 minutes, Phone Booth manages to be slick, efficient, tedious, and offensive—all at the same time. It borrows elements from such classic nail-biters as Sorry, Wrong Number (1948) and Speed (1994), but can't duplicate those films' originality or suspense. Archaic in nature (when was the last time you saw an honest-to-goodness glassed-in phone booth?), the premise provides enough claustrophobic thrills to maintain interest, but just barely. Director Joel Schumacher wisely resists the urge to bloat the story with frivolous subplots, maintaining the voyeuristic focus on the hip, selfish, trash-talking, obnoxious "hero" of the piece, Stu Shepard (Farrell).

Credit screenwriter Larry Cohen for pulling no punches in his depiction of Stu. A cocksure, motor-mouth publicist with an ego as high as New York skyscrapers, Stu pounds the Big Apple sidewalks with his cell phone glued to his ear and his panting lapdog assistant heeling alongside. He treats his fellow man like gum on his shoe soles, uses profanity as all-purpose adjectives and calls hot chick Pamela (Katie Holmes) from an Eighth Avenue phone booth so his wife (Radha Mitchell) won't get suspicious when she gets the cell bill. Nice guy.

After one such call to arrange an illicit liaison, the pay phone rings. Intrigued, Stu picks up. On the other end sits The Caller (Kiefer Sutherland), an unseen, mellifluous-toned morality freak who's been stalking Stu and tracking his shameful behavior. "You are guilty of inhumanity to your fellow man," he calmly chastises. Stu, of course, sneers and tries to slough him off, but then comes The Caller's chilling retort: "If you hang up, I will kill you." The infrared target marker pointed at Stu's chest proves he's dead serious.

A panicked Stu promises to do anything to be set free, but, for him, the simple task The Caller demands takes on Herculean proportions—confess his sins to those he's wronged (namely his wife and prospective mistress) and lead a henceforth righteous life. Stu scoffs and the chess game commences.

This is where Phone Booth's connection wavers. Are we really to believe that out of all the unsavory and despicable characters in New York, small-time Stu would be plucked out of the crowd for punishment? Sure, he treats people like dirt and inflates his ego, but so do a million other New Yorkers. And he hasn't even committed adultery; he's just flirting over the phone. Maybe the filmmakers hope the injustice of Stu's selection will drum up sympathy for their callous hero, but it didn't sway me.

Fear drives the film, but is it fear of dying that jolts Stu, or fear of God? The Caller's voice doesn't sound like it's transmitted over a wire and garbled through a plastic receiver. Instead, it booms across the screen preaching virtue and truth—omnipresent, authoritative, as if Sutherland were in a recording studio laying down a scene-specific commentary track—so it's easy to mistake it for the voice of God. Yet instead of adding depth to the film, the religious overtones muddle the basic premise and dilute the one-on-one tension.

The film annoys most, however, in its reliance on four-letter words. While expletives can spice up dialogue and serve a narrative purpose, their gratuitous use here is unwarranted. I'm no prude, but the constant barrage of foul language in Phone Booth offended me. Dialogue should at least strive to represent believable conversation and I don't believe normal people pepper their sentences with half as many curse words as the characters in Phone Booth. This is one film that wears its R rating with unabashed pride.

The low-budget, washed-out look of Phone Booth creates an appropriately grungy mood that works well, and Schumacher gets good mileage out of multi-screen images when he visually patches into various phone calls. As the focal point of both viewer and killer, Farrell shines, cracking under pressure but never abandoning Stu's distasteful core. Such truth in acting may not please the audience, but keeps the character real. Some may feel that Stu cries crocodile tears, but it's that duplicity in Farrell's acting that gives Phone Booth its edge and may lift Farrell to superstar status.

In the end, Phone Booth is taut, terse, but also tiresome. The ordeal exhausts not only Stu, but the audience as well. The weak ending doesn't help and might make some viewers wish they could reverse the charges.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno
Anamorphicyesno


Image Transfer Review: Phone Booth exhibits the pale, faded palette that filmmakers seem to favor these days, lending the New York set a bleak, harsh look that fits the story. The disc features the original theatrical widescreen version (anamorphically enhanced) on one side and a 4:3 pan & scan treatment on the other. Few blemishes mar the widescreen transfer, which features crisp lines and good detail. The tight close-ups and dreary street scenes don't lend themselves to lush treatment, but the video aptly represents the elements on display, although contrast often seems weak. The image does possess a slight blue push and some soft focus moments, but pleases overall. The pan & scan transfer seems a tad fuzzier and overly bright, but is nonetheless clean and watchable.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
English, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 audio track performs adequately, but doesn't envelop as much as I would have liked. The phone calls from various characters are nicely isolated, depending on the corner of the screen from which they emanate, but the surrounds could have been pumped up to better exploit all the background noise a New York street scene offers. The Caller's voice possesses presence and depth, but, as mentioned above, doesn't sound like a phone call, so I found the clarity distracting. Both French 5.1 and Spanish Dolby 2.0 tracks are also included.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Garage Days
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Joel Schumacher
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: For a film of such short duration, the extras included on this disc are surprisingly skimpy. The commentary track by director Joel Schumacher divulges only a smattering of interesting details concerning the movie's production. In a monotonic, dry delivery, Schumacher discusses how Phone Booth was shot in sequence on a rigorous 10-day schedule, with an L.A. street doubling for New York's Eighth Avenue. (The crew spent one day in New York City shooting the film's prologue.) Despite the frantic timetable, Schumacher admits to having the time of his life. "Outside of putting a needle in my arm in the '60s for five years," he says, "truly the most insane thing I ever did in my life is try to make a movie in ten days." Other than that titillating quote, the rest of the commentary is sleep inducing and mainly consists of Schumacher rhapsodizing about Farrell and Sutherland, and pausing to admire Holmes' beauty. Yawn.

Extras Grade: C+

 

Final Comments

Although Phone Booth doesn't reach out and touch the audience, it's not quite a cinematic wrong number. Farrell carries the film with his uncompromising portrayal of a yuppie cad, but can't overcome the stagy script and static premise. Still, it's worth a rental—just take the R rating seriously.

 


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