Cellular (2004)

(In theaters, September 2004) Thrillers don’t have to be good if they’re clever, and Cellular demonstrates this better than most other films. Bad dialogue? A lousy lead actress? Contrivances, coincidences and leaps of logic? Here’s the surprise: you just won’t care if the film is energetic and suspenseful enough. After a wobbly first fifteen minutes (Kim Basinger is still pretty hot, but her idea of “terrified” is closer to our vision of “mildly annoyed”), the premise is clearly established: A faint phone connection as the only thing linking a kidnapped woman to her accidental would-be rescuer. After that, watch out, because the film takes off and doesn’t land until the end. A succession of clever set-pieces keeps the action flowing, and director David R. Ellis’ nervy direction excels at delivering a limpid story. There’s suspense, there’s action, there’s wish-fulfilment and there’s plenty of humour. Lead Chris Evans does exceedingly well as an ordinary guy thrown into an extraordinary situation. Jason Stratham is wasted as the bad guy, but Rick Hoffman turns in a great character performance as an ultra-obnoxious lawyer. Los Angeles itself takes a starring role as the playground on which all the craziness occurs. The ending is a bit conventional, but no matter; by that point, it’s easy to be completely taken by Cellular, one of 2004’s purest and most compelling thrillers. Let this be a lesson to would-be filmmakers; be funny, be fast and be clever, damnit!

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