Director: David R. Ellis

Can you hear me now? Of course, it may help if there’s a scream. In David R. Ellis’s Cellular we’re introduced fairly quickly to a handful of characters in a rather cheesy and abrupt beginning that soon gives way to one of the most surprisingly involving thrillers of 2004. Like good modern day films of the genre, Cellular takes place in near real-time (occurring in the same relative timeframe that it take us to watch the film) and while it’s not as painstaking as say TV’s 24 or the classic Western masterpiece High Noon was in regards to this structure, Cellular works like Speed did a decade earlier and Panic Room did a few years ago. Namely, it launches us along with our ill-prepared and unsuspecting hero as he tries to use rational logic, which given the adrenaline and intensity of the events is at times clouded, to save the day. The set-up is at once both blissfully absurd and simple—a woman has been kidnapped and manages to hit and splice the wires together of a shattered phone, somehow dialing into the cellular line of a young college student. Using the opposite premise of his other film Phone Booth which found Colin Farrell trapped in just one locale, screenwriter Larry Cohen who penned the first draft of Cellular decided it would be fascinating to have a modern day character still trapped by one phone call yet able to move freely about the city. Chris Morgan who was brought in to edit and rewrite Cohen’s original manages to include some choice bits of humor and vibrancy that helps keep us engaged for this fast-paced thriller that should have served as a star-making showcase for its young star Chris Evans who’s an engaging and witty everyman playing the type of character that they’d probably cast Shia LaBeouf in today. For her role as the kidnapped science teacher Jessica Martin, actress Kim Basinger took a method approach by voluntarily cutting herself off from the rest of the cast and keeping the set with as few crew members as possible during her scenes to heighten the intensity, according to just one of the many wonderful behind-the-scenes interviews included in the DVD featurette. Although there are a few questionable errors in logic and we find ourselves trying to figure out why Jessica won’t just give the kid her home address so that he can figure out what’s going on or why he doesn’t conference in a third line to get help sooner, we’re soon acquainted with more characters and twists that help justify the action. In addition, Cellular offers a great role for William H. Macy who’s essentially there as the comic relief playing an honest police officer who’s been on the force for more than two decades but is ready to give up the job to open a day spa with his wife, along with an intense portrayal by Jason Statham as a highly convincing captor. Calling on his diverse and valuable background as a second unit assistant director, stuntman, and actor, effective action director David R. Ellis turns what could have been a straight-to-DVD style cult action film into a wonderful sleeper thriller. As Roger Ebert stated in his glowing review, Cellular’s “…craftsmanship is in the details, including the astonishing number of different ways in which a cell phone can be made to function—both as a telephone and as a plot device.” In other words, check your reception and dial in.