Cellular epitomises the summer blockbuster, and if that sort of film doesn't appeal to you, it's safe to say that this is not the film for you. That said, for those in the need of a brisk piece of entertainment that doesn't require much in the way of thinking, this is an enjoyable enough way to spend an hour and a half.
The plot itself is a completely ludicrous affair. A group of armed men, led by the villainous Ethan (Jason Statham), break into the home of schoolteacher Jessica Martin (Kim Basinger), kill her maid and abduct her. Locked in an attic and sure that her kidnappers will kill her, Jessica pieces together the remains of a broken telephone and manages to make one phone call. The person who answers is Ryan (Chris Evans), a laidback surfer dude who has just been dumped by his girlfriend (a brief cameo from Jessica Biel). With nothing better to do in the next ten minutes, he listens to Jessica's pleas for help, incredulous at first but quickly realising that this is no joke. He pops by the local police station, arousing the interest of Sergeant Mooney (William H. Macy), a veteran cop about to quit the force to open a health spa. When circumstances prevent Ryan from enlisting the aid of the cops, he decides to do what he can to help Jessica out on his own, taking him on a daredevil chase through the crowded streets of Los Angeles with only his cellphone for company. Mooney, meanwhile, decides to do a little investigating of his own...
Cellular is, in all honestly, one huge advertisement for Nokia cellphones, to the extent that characters actually wave their latest gadgets in each other's faces and ream off lists of their amazing special features (including a highly ludicrous scene in which one phone is shown to be capable of playing DVD-quality videos). To his credit, screenwriter Chris Morgan manages to work these elements into the plot, but even so the product placement seems gratuitous and renders much of the action ludicrous. Marvel as Ryan races against time to defeat the bad guys, all thanks to Nokia! Throw in some car chases, acrobatics and plenty of guns, and you have the perfect formula for a big dumb action movie. But in reality this is exactly what prospective audiences will be expecting, and so what if the plot doesn't make sense? Yes, Ryan passes up numerous opportunities to simply alert the police to Jessica's predicament, but then the film would be a rather short one. Really, the only thing you can do is sit back and accept the ridiculous storyline at face value. It's geared towards fun and rollercoaster thrills, and for the most part it delivers.
The talented Kim Basinger takes title billing, although in actual fact the majority of the legwork falls to Chris Evans (no, not that Chris Evans), who is likeable enough but doesn't have the charisma or acting ability to carry the picture. Admittedly, much of the dialogue is risible (Phone Booth writer Larry Cohen came up with the original premise but was not responsibly for the final screenplay), which severely hampers Evans' attempts at sincerity, but even so he comes across as completely ridiculous on a number of occasions. His range is limited and he tends to play every single scene in the same breathless, slightly-frantic-but-hardly-breaking-a-sweat state. Oh, and if anyone can manage to refrain from laughing during the scene in which he encounters a smashed cellphone, which is staged and scored as if he had just discovered the body of his best friend, then you have my undying admiration. Kim Basinger, sadly, is wasted in a role that, for most of the film's duration, merely requires her to weep and plead for her life. It's a shame to see an actor of her calibre working with such flimsy material, but luckily William H. Macy gets more to do with his clichéd yet appealing character and comes out a winner.
What saves the movie is its direction. David R. Ellis, still hot from the success of Final Destination 2, shoots the sun-soaked streets of LA and its nubile, cellphone-wielding residents with panache and makes sure the film is never boring thanks to his constantly-roving camera and brisk sense of pacing. A former stunt coordinator, he knows how to stage an effective pile-up, and indeed the progressively more outrageous set-pieces of Final Destination 2 were that film's strongest element. The look of the film is never particularly original - Ellis is clearly a director for hire and his style is indistinguishable from that of virtually every other Hollywood action movie filmmaker working today - but his workmanlike method gets the job done, and his brisk sense of pacing keeps the movie from being overlong. He doesn't always make the right choices (the way in which the closing credits are presented constitutes an extremely bad error of judgement), but by and large the film works and his enthusiasm certainly shows. Clocking in at a very agreeable 85 minutes (not counting the credits), Cellular is fast, fun and frivolous, which is about as much as you can reasonably expect.
Cellular is presented anamorphically in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio. This is the first EIV release to have come my way in nearly three years, and unfortunately the quality of transfers created by this studio seem to be pretty much the same as they were the last time I viewed one of their discs. While other much-maligned labels like Tartan have made significant improvements in terms of image quality, Cellular's transfer is merely above average, showing a number of compression artefacts and with the picture taking on an overall "flat" quality. The amount of filtering applied was clearly very high, and this robs the film of its texture and detail. The results are overall acceptable, but disappointing nonetheless.
Three English audio tracks are included, taking care of all the major listening options: Dolby Digital 2.0 and 5.1, and DTS 5.1. I listened primarily to the DTS track and found it to be a very good mix indeed, featuring a great deal in the way of split channel effects and with good dynamic range, and I noticed no problems with synchronization or clarity. There seems to be little, if any, difference between the Dolby and DTS 5.1 tracks, but the inclusion of the DTS track is definitely appreciated, and in this respect the UK release scores a major coup over its US counterpart.
Subtitles are included in English for the film itself and for all the extras, including the commentary. They are clear, legible and of a good size, but the fact that they fall half way between the on-screen image and the black letterboxing is sure to annoy viewers with projection displays who typically mask unused parts of the screen.
Released in the US as part of New Line's Platinum Series (the same label under which the lavish Extended Editions of The Lord of the Rings were marketed), Cellular doesn't have a huge amount in the way of bonus materials, but what's on offer is nothing to be sniffed at.
A series of Deleted and Alternate Scenes, five in total, kick off the fun. All are essentially extensions of scenes that exist in the final cut, and can be viewed with and without commentary by director David R. Ellis. As far as deleted scenes go, the quality is pretty good - indeed, it's almost on par with that of the finished film.
Next up is an Audio Commentary featuring Ellis and assorted cohorts. The menu identifies the other participants as story originator Larry Cohen and writer Chris Morgan, and while in fact these two individuals are featured, they only crop up briefly in the form of a series of cellphone calls (how clever!) Ellis makes to various members of the crew. The bulk of the track is occupied by Ellis, his daughter (and associate producer) Tawny Ellis and his sister (and assistant stunt coordinator) Annie Ellis. Unfortunately, none of them are particularly interesting to listen to, and most of the time they seem to be struggling to find something to say.
Luckily, to make up for the emptiness of the commentary, three separate documentaries follow. The first, Celling Out, runs for 20 minutes and covers, of all things, the history of the telephone. Its actual connection to the movie is pretty tenuous, but in its own right it is a fairly interesting if slightly condescending piece of work.
Dialing Up Cellular provides a 25-minute look at the film's genesis. Many of the major players are interviewed, including the director, screenwriters and a number of the actors, who cover all the usual bases. It's short, and doesn't go into much detail, and has slightly too much in the way of back-patting, but it gives a nice overview of the movie and is a good deal more informative than many EPK-style features.
Code of Silence: Inside the Rampart Scandal, running at 27 minutes, looks at an actual historical case involving the LAPD that was the inspiration for the reason for Jessica's kidnapping in the film. To say any more would reveal an important plot twist, so I'll limit myself to simply saying that this is an informative and well-made feature, but one that is unlikely to be of much interest unless you really want to get into Cellular's back story. It reminded me a lot of those "real-life crime" programmes that show up on Channel 5 at around midnight from time to time: they make for reasonable background noise, but unless you have a particular interest in the case in hand they're unlikely to be worthy of your full attention.
The Theatrical Trailer rounds out the package. A word of warning: don't watch it until you've seen the film itself, as it is chock-full of spoilers, and I for one am glad that I didn't run into this when it was doing the rounds at the cinema.
Cellular is an enjoyable enough popcorn movie, but seriously doubt that it would stand up to repeat viewings and, as such, is probably more suited to a rental than an actual purchase. The disc itself is fairly mediocre in terms of image quality and extras, but benefits from a great DTS track.
Cellular is released on 7th February 2005.