- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2004

The new thriller “Cellular” couldn’t have been made 20 years ago. Nearly every story twist relies on how the heroes push those tiny cell phone buttons to save the day.

But let’s not forget another modern affliction equally responsible for “Cellular” — the dumbing down of the thriller. The film packs so many head-slapping moments in its setup that it’s a wonder the producers didn’t go broke on aspirin for cast and crew.

Miraculously, once the film gets its preposterous story in motion, the idiocies dwindle and we’re left clutching our seats during several adroitly staged chases and showdowns.

It all starts with a gorgeous science teacher named Jessica (does anyone recall having one that looked anything like Kim Basinger does here?) getting abducted in her own Brentwood, Calif., home by a quintet of toughs.

They whisk her away to an unknown house where she’s thrown into the attic for safekeeping. The head goon (Jason Statham) bashes the attic’s phone to smithereens, but once he’s gone she pieces the shattered wires together well enough to place one random outgoing call.

She reaches Ryan (Chris Evans), an irresponsible lad trying to change his ways to please his exasperated ex-girlfriend (Jessica Biel).

Ryan initially dismisses Jessica’s message as a crank call but soon realizes her cry for help is no prank.

He tries telling the police, but the officers at the local station are too busy quelling a miniriot to take much notice. Only about-to-retire officer Mooney (William H. Macy) bothers to help, but he’s paying more attention to his post-police life running a day spa.

It’s up to Ryan to save Jessica and solve why her family is in such jeopardy.

Pitting a clueless surfer dude against five seriously armed thugs sure seems a mismatch, but despite “Cellular’s” illogical setup and lazy character sketches, we begin rooting for underdog Ryan and are rewarded with a series of amusing vignettes that keep the film’s tension at a tolerable pitch.

The mustachioed Mr. Macy grounds a nearly thankless role, while Miss Basinger gains our trust both as a frightened matriarch and, finally, a resourceful heroine.

Mr. Statham could menace his own mother, so foreboding is his anvil-sized jaw and permanent glower.

“Cellular” even sneaks in a few “Falling Down”-style swipes at modern life, including a towing lot attendee who summarizes the frustrations Americans too often face when dealing with the service industry.

Don’t hang up before “Cellular” has a chance to make its case. Its implausibilities, bald product placement and crater-sized plot holes notwithstanding, “Cellular” is the kind of thriller that deserves a place in the late-summer movie lineup.

***

WHAT: “Cellular”

RATING: PG-13 (Strong language, action-movie violence and children repeatedly threatened with harm)

CREDITS: Directed by David R. Ellis. Screenplay by Chris Morgan. Story by Larry Cohen. Produced by Dean Devlin and Lauren Lloyd.

RUNNING TIME: 89 minutes

WEB SITE: www.cellularthemovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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