Cellular 2004 Review: The film must involve the touchy issue of suspension of disbelief

A young man receives an emergency phone call on his cell phone from an older woman. The catch? The woman claims to have been kidnapped; and the kidnappers have targeted her husband and child next.

The original screenplay was by genre veteran Larry Cohen. And I suspect that it was closer to what I was hoping for here. Cohen only gets a story credit; the screenplay was evidently written by first-timer Chris Morgan, and I would bet the deed to my house, if I had one, that the bizarre comic relief and weird digressions came in around rewrite #7. And so the plot is interrupted so that our friend Ryan (Chris Evans), who is stuck on a cell phone talking to a woman who has been kidnapped but doesn’t know where she is, can yell at a neighboring driver to get off the cell phone and concentrate on the road.

The trick to Cellular’s success, I think, is that it’s aware of its own absurdity without laughing at itself. This is a fine line: the movie is dumb, it knows it’s dumb. But it doesn’t wink or make fun or even care. The result is plenty of laughs and jeers from the audience, but also applause at all the right times, and a distinct tendency for people to move toward the edge of their seats. That kind of dichotomy is very difficult to pull off, and I found it fairly sublime.

It also allows us the exceedingly rare sight of William H. Macy participating in a full-on brawl-style fight scene — and winning!

Looking considerably less entertained is Kim Basinger, who manages to get herself outacted by Chris Evans. Granted, the screenplay mostly leaves her with only desperate pleas for help and an occasional scream or sob, but she remains oddly unconvincing in a role that should have been a cakewalk. I could have sworn that at times she was reading the lines off a teleprompter. Fortunately, the movie takes the pressure off a bit by giving us the likes of Macy and Noah Emmerich in supporting parts; people who know how to handle this silliness and make it good.

Any discussion of Cellular (Tin Hieu Song) must involve the touchy issue of suspension of disbelief. My position is that the film requires so much of it that it kind of crosses over into not requiring any at all, if that makes any sense. In other words, it comes with a neon “SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF” sign on its forehead; being able to ignore good sense and logic isn’t an option, it’s simply a prerequisite for watching it. Everything’s built around the viewer’s ability to do that. Without suspension of disbelief there’s no movie.

This is one of Jason Statham’s forgotten movies, which is a shame as it’s a pretty tight little action thriller. Statham plays a villainous kidnapper called Ethan Greer and as this was one of his earliest roles even then he was a pretty convincing bad guy; he oozes menace in every scene and comes off as really intimidating.

As a perfectly willing disbelief-suspender, This was a dandy hour and a half. Not too many movies can make me laugh uproariously at the plot while continuing to care about it. Mileage may vary, but if the idea of William H. Macy beating up someone roughly twice his size sounds like a hoot.

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