**½/**** Image B+ Sound A Commentary A
starring Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland, Forest Whitaker, Radha Mitchell
screenplay by Larry Cohen
directed by Joel Schumacher
by Walter Chaw Responsible for some of my favourite weirdo low-tech cult films (Q, God Told Me To, It's Alive!), underground auteur Larry Cohen's output is a lollapalooza of high-concept hokum invested equally in the Catholic and the apocalyptic. Joining forces with master hack Joel Schumacher (who's made a mean schlock classic or two himself--Flatliners, The Lost Boys, The Incredible Shrinking Woman) on the unfortunately-timed sniper fantasy Phone Booth, Cohen's script reveals the man up to his old tricks: a barely feature-length product (about seventy-five minutes without credits) set inside a confessional-cum-8th Avenue phone booth that mires an anti-hero in an old-school oasis amidst our sterile technological wasteland. What should have been an agreeable bit of nonsense, however, gets tangled up in Cohen's desire to proselytize, transforming the potential for a paranoid piece of B-sociology into something empty and pretentious--a tale directed by an idiot, full of some admittedly innovative sound design and a surplus of Method fury.
Earning credit for being a one-trick pony that doesn't overstay its welcome, Phone Booth finds some resonance in Farrell having shown himself in the six months this film spent on the shelf to be every bit as in need of bullying and introspection as Stu. Recognizing that the star is the same variety of assclown as his character, though, doesn't ultimately go very far in making his humiliation from on high particularly profound. The picture reminds a great deal of Shyamalan's Signs: a gimmick stretched to incorporate a message for mankind bogged down by empty morality and an uncomfortable imposition of religious sanctimony.
Phone Booth is really not much more than a nice showcase for sound designer Tim Walston (his work here recalling similar efforts on The Caveman's Valentine): another glossy, surface entertainment with one good idea and no earthly clue what that idea might be nor what to do with it if it did. The result is an entertaining misfire with a technological proficiency made ironic by the fact that Phone Booth should be about the dangers of that same sort of technological proficiency to privacy and personal identity--not the evils of being a third-rate snake oil salesman in a cheap Italian suit. Originally published: April 4, 2003.
by Bill Chambers Fox DVD presents Phone Booth in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and full-frame on opposite sides of a single-layer platter. The coarse grain that made the film look so gritty in theatres appears to have been smoothed out for DVD (levelling contrast in the process)--the transfer gleams, and that isn't necessarily preferable to the intended newsfilm aesthetic. The steely colours are still there, at least, while the authoring itself is above reproach. Because Phone Booth was shot in Super35, both aspect ratios represent a compositional compromise; interestingly, although the fullscreen edition contains additional vertical picture info, it feels far more claustrophobic than the widescreen version. As heard in moviehouses last spring, the sniper's voice pours omnipotently from all six channels of the disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundmix, and there are aggressive stereo splits during Phone Booth's many picture-in-picture interludes.
Joel Schumacher speaks up in a wonderfully frank feature-length yak-track that delves into the logistical challenges of the 12-day shoot, the scheduling of which he calls the dumbest thing he's done since heroin. Colin Farrell and Kiefer Sutherland receive major props; Katie Holmes is portrayed as "one of God's children," an endangered species among today's young actresses for her off-screen benevolence; and director of photography Matthew Libatique is celebrated unguardedly. Schumacher may do little else besides pay compliments when all's said and done, but details of the very specific contributions of his cast and crew emerge from these loving tributes. Trailers for Phone Booth and Alex Proyas's Garage Days round out the disc, whose cover art contains a spoiler we're sorry to be duplicating here. Originally published: June 23, 2003.