'Cellular': Hanging On for Dear Life

By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 10, 2004

SOMETIMES you're just ready for dumb fun. (Of course, some of us are always ready for it.) Which may be why "Cellular" is so easy to watch and so surprisingly gripping. Yes, a movie about a cell phone can be entertaining. It certainly hits most of us where we live and, all too many of us, where we drive.

The movie starts out as stupid as stupid does, with two less-than-involving plots. In one, Kim Basinger is Jessica Martin, a married mom who is suddenly kidnapped; and in the second, a "lovable lughead" with six-pack abs named Ryan (Chris Evans) is being told by his girlfriend that he's a self-obsessed narcissist.

You know these two are going to be connected, especially with a title like "Cellular." It happens when Ryan's cell phone rings and Jessica tells him about her plight. Ryan doesn't believe her story but he's nice enough to pass the cell phone to . . . overworked, weary police officer Mooney (an amusingly downcast William H. Macy), who refers Ryan to the robbery unit upstairs. Ryan can't find anyone up there. It seems he'll have to deal with this call. If Jessica is telling the truth, he's got no choice but to be a hero. For one thing, the goons are on their way to her son's school to abduct little Ricky (Adam Taylor Gordon). Yes, she has a son named Ricky Martin.

Now here's the hook. Jessica, a science teacher, is locked in the attic. But she has pieced together a shattered telephone, salvaged from the beating that one of her abductors (Jason Statham, a nice Englishman doomed to a career of these roles) just gave it. She has to hold two flimsy wires together to make it work. Reaching Ryan's cell phone was a fluke. The connection could be lost at any moment. So, while Ryan's driving at top speed through clogged traffic and chasing dangerous men, he has to make sure he doesn't lose the call.

It should come as no surprise that Larry Cohen (whose screen story was the basis for debuting writer Chris Morgan's screenplay) also wrote "Phone Booth," another movie in which two people are caught up in a suspenseful situation with a phone line between them. He obviously knows the territory. Despite a story that's hardly the most credible ever conceived -- ranging from Ryan holding up cell phone store employees at gunpoint so he can get a battery charger, to the incredibly dumb reasons behind the kidnapping -- "Cellular" is always charged. Its adroit use of suspense makes you overlook the silliness. And if nothing else, Washingtonians can appreciate the spectacle of drivers using handheld cell phones legally.

CELLULAR (PG-13, 89 minutes) -- Contains violence and obscenity. Area theaters.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company