September has never been a melting pot for decent movies. It is one of the months in the year when studios just plop their “not good enough for summer” releases in theatres and pray to break even. With a very profitable summer season behind them, New Line Cinema brings us Cellular; in what can only be an attempt to not break their connection.
It was the beginning of a typical day for High School Biology teacher and Soccer Mom Jessica Martin (Kim Basinger). Soon after taking her son to the bus stop for school a gang of kidnappers break into her house, led by Ethan (Jason Statham), and abduct her to suit their cause. They threaten her and they slap her around, they lock her in an attic until they can get some answers. Meanwhile twenty-something surfer dude Ryan (Chris Evans) is strolling the beach with his buddy Chad (Eric Christian Olsen). After a run-in with his ex, Chloe (Jessica Biel), Ryan is off to run a series of errands in the hopes of ultimately winning her back. Back in the attic, Jessica tries desperately to contact someone on the outside through a demolished phone destroyed upon her arrival. She can only dial one random number, and that just happens to go through to Ryan’s cell phone. When Sgt. Mooney (William H. Macy) and the rest of the LAPD cease to be any real help, Ryan must drop his own personal agenda and do anything he possibly can. Whether it is car jacking lawyers, disobeying traffic laws, or firing a gun in a crowded cell phone store, Ryan must do anything in order to save the lives of Jessica and her family.
What makes the film’s somber base really work is the casting of Academy Award Winner Kim Basinger. Watery eyed and/or wallowing in fear, it is her initial terror that hooks us in. Jason Statham (The Transporter) plays the cold-hearted villain of the film quite easily. Casting an Englishman as “the bad guy” is never a bad thing. Statham’s presence alone makes it seem immediately that “Ryan” doesn’t have a shot in hell. By contrast, in the case of Chris Evans (Not Another Teen Movie) it works for the character to step into a hero role timidly, and Evans pulls this off well. Even William H. Macy pulls his fair share of action, and it’s a wonder that he hasn’t done it before. Granted there might not be a huge market for a Ned Flanders-like action hero, but in this movie it absolutely fit-diddley-its.
Stunt man turned director David R. Ellis is the man responsible for this little post summer thrill ride. Last time he worked with New Line he helmed the successful Final Destination 2. His background in stunt work is highly apparent in each action sequence. There is no over use of CG in any of the chase scenes. Hell, there is no CG in any of the action sequences...at all. Absent is a massively huge fireball to run away from in slow motion only to dive before the last second explosion. The action is appropriate and the result is a highly entertaining experience.
If you think Cellular is just a plain old melodramatic beat-the-clock-kidnap-thriller, you are dead wrong. Sewn throughout all the serious and fast paced action elements of this story is actually a layer of humor that gives us all a chance to breathe before another situation arises where we bite our fingernails. This use of lighthearted comedy within the confines of its initial severe tone makes it seem just that much more real. Cellular has screenwriter Chris Morgan to thank for that. His rewrite on an aging draft from Larry Cohen (Phone Booth) is what added all the great comic nuances to this small action thriller.
Cellular is a “popcorn movie” in every sense of the term, but in a good way. Sure it isn’t a truly phenomenal cinematic breakthrough, nor is it a kind of cherished masterpiece. It is what it is. You could do a lot worse with your ten bucks over the weekend. So I say, give it a shot. It can’t hurt. But if it’s sold out and you‘re stuck having to sit through Super Babies 2...don’t come crying to me.